Friday, May 15, 2015

The Detective's Assistant by Kate Hannigan

I'm not personally a fan of historical fiction, or spunky girl characters, so I would have been very skeptical of this if I hadn't enjoyed Hannigan's previous title, Cupcake Cousins so much.

Nell Warne shows up at her aunt's boarding house in Chicago with plenty of misery and worries. She's an orphan with no other relatives but her Aunt Kate and her aunt seems none too interested in admitting any responsibility for her. Nell's best friend Jemma is far away in Canada and it looks like Nell is going to end up in an orphanage whether she likes it or not.

But Aunt Kate, while she may be a Pickled Onion, has an exciting secret; she's the first female detective for Mr. Pinkerton's detective agency. Nell is determined to stick to her newfound family and be part of Kate's life, including her cases. But there are frightening events on the move, more than just a few cases of stolen money or murder, and both Nell and Kate will have to adjust and grow to be able to face the coming challenges.

This maintains a light-hearted feel, even though it deals with serious events like the looming Civil War, slavery, the Underground Railroad, and the challenges faced by a single woman on her own. Nell's story is interspersed with letters to and from her best friend Jemma, which add to the plot until all the pieces come together at the end, revealing not only Nell's family secrets but Jemma's as well. I really enjoyed the small details that Hannigan included about everyday life for women; the financial struggles, clothing, sights (and smells) of Chicago. An author's note includes more information about the real-life Kate Warne and there are also more resources for readers who want to explore the history further.

Verdict: This historical fiction will appeal to readers who like history as well as those who enjoy exciting adventures. There are also several mysteries interwoven into the story from the individual cases to the mystery of Nell's family and I can booktalk mysteries to about 80% of my readers. A great blend of different genres that will introduce kids to several important historical events in a fun and interesting way. Highly recommended.

ISBN: 9780316403511; Published April 2015 by Little Brown; ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter 2015; Purchased for the library

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