"Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things"http://www.amazon.com/Mister-Max-Book-Lost-Things/dp/0307976815 is a sweet and charming book about a boy detective, who while ostensibly figuring out simple mysteries also rights injustices and comes up with elegant solutions about people's real problems. The characters, story and setting are very well written by Cynthia Voigt, a former Newbury Award winner. The mysteries are easily solved, but Max's ability to find unique solutions to the underlying problem or situation is the real essence of this book, and what makes the simple mysteries in this first book of the Mister Max trilogy rise above other such stories.
Set early in the 1900's in an unknown country, Max Starling is a 12-year old who helps out in his parent's theater. While at breakfast one morning with his parents, a mysterious letter arrives inviting his parents to put on performances for the Majaharah of Kashmir. The Starlings accept the invite, but when Max arrives at the dock to join his parents on the the cruise to Kashmir, they are missing and there is no such ship. What happened to his parents. Meanwhile, the harbor master gives Max a cryptic letter with an odd message from his father
.Max is left all alone with no money. Luckily for him, his Grammie lives right next door and can help him out for a short time. But before Max can even catch his breath, Madame Olenka, a mysterious woman, comes to his house claiming that she wants to live in the empty house. Acting quickly Max dons some props from the theater and fools the sly woman into believing he is a tenant of the house, but Max is left to wonder how the woman could even know his parents were missing. Nor is this the only time Olenka and her family will beset Max.
Now even more worried about his home and what exactly happened to his parents, Max must find a way to make some money.
While looking for a job, he finds a lost child in a park and is rewarded by the child's mother with a large reward. He also dispenses a bit of wisdom to the mother -- a neat solution to her problem of keeping her child in tow - telling her to get a leash for the wayward child.
His good deed leads him to his next "case". A young girl at a fancy school has lost her prized dog. The father has heard of Max's retrieval of the child and thinks that Max would be the perfect man to find the lost pooch.
Again Max is easily able to solve the mystery of the lost dog, but Max finds that the owner was not treating the dog well -- keeping it leashed up all day long at school.. But the person who has the dog now loves the dog and is treating it much more kindly. Max really uses his mind and skills to craft an elegant solution to the problem of who should get the dog, but still makes the young girl happy.
Max discovers that his real gift is to solve injustices and right wrongs.
The other mysteries in this fine book are equally easily solved -- a lost spoon, a lost girl, a lost heir, a mistreated servant, a good spot for a restaurant. Max finds lost things, but his real job is as a solutioneer -- a person who finds the best way to right injustices. Sometimes the real answer is to know what the person really wants or needs. The solutions are elegant and sweet.
And at the same time, Max will find a way to figure out why his parents disappeared and who probably took them and why.
I really liked the book and even though the mysteries were never very involved, and obvious, the concept of a boy who looked past the easy answers to find the real solution to the misery of others was meaningful and joyous.
My only concern is the intended audience for this book. Its sweetly written story and simple mysteries may not appeal to an older reader, but its involved plotting and structure may not appeal to a young reader either.
Its a good book for a selective audience. I liked it a lot. Maybe your child will too.
I received my copy from Net Galley and its publisher in exchange for this review.