Monday, March 23, 2015

The Detective's Assistant (MMGM review)

The Detective's Assistant
Author: Kate Hannigan
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (April 7, 2015)
Review copy courtesy of the publisher

I am thrilled to offer a great new historical novel with a terrific girl heroine for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.  From intrigue to history to ciphers, this book should interest many middle graders of either gender.

When eleven year old Nell Warne is dropped off at her Aunt Kitty's door not long before the Civil War, she is not wanted and not welcome. Kate thinks she has no use for the girl, but Nell's indomitable spirit, clever mind and dare devil attitude soon prove to her aunt that there is more to the girl than meets the eye, as Nell helps with some of the dangerous and tricky cases her aunt has to solve. Because Kate Warne is a detective with Pinkertons, and they are called to solve jewel heists and murders, and even to protect Abraham Lincoln as he makes his way through a sharply divided land to his inauguration.

In a very clever juxtaposition underlying the story of Nell and Kate is the story we learn through letters between Nell and Jemma, a friend whose family has fled to Canada. Though they have always been free blacks, the roving bounty hunters have little respect for the law. Nell and Jemma practice ciphers and code words to prevent anyone who intercepts the letters from finding out details about  Jemma's family and the people who help slaves escape to the North. We gradually learn how the underground railroad and the abolitionist movement are intricately involved with Nell's story, and in the end seal the increasing affection between Nell and her Aunt Kate while helping her faraway friend.

In short, the book is delightful. Nell is a terrific combination of smart and careless, take-charge and nervous. She has trouble with her spelling, embarrasses her Aunt and herself, and doesn't always (often) do as she is told. I think girls of today will love her spunk and courage while laughing at how she makes the same mistakes (and decisions) they do.

Five stars out of five!

To find other posts for MMGM, visit Shannon Messenger's blog where she toils to keep up with them.


  1. This one sounds most intriguing. Many of the elements should appeal to young readers. I have also added it to my books to read so thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    1. Great. Let us know what you think when you get to it. (Although if your TBR pile is like mine, it may be a while.)

  2. This sounds like lots of fun! Detectives and Pinkertons and Civil War and Spunky Girl - how can you not win?

    1. Exactly. As an additional recommendation, my wife has booknapped it, and she can't put it down.