This is the third in my series of reviews of the nominees for best juvenile mystery for the 2014 Edgar Awards, and so far it’s looking like a top contender.
Author: Amy Timberlake
Genre: mystery (historical)
Age group: upper middle grade
Synopsis: In 1871, Georgie Burkhardt has plans for one day running her grandfather’s store with her older sister Agatha, but those plans take a turn when Agatha disappears. It happens after a thunderous flock of pigeons invades their small town in Wisconsin, using it as a nesting place. Agatha has two local men interested in her, but she suddenly leaves one day with a group of “pigeoners” who are out to hunt the birds and follow them wherever they nest. Days later, the sheriff returns to town with an unidentifiable body dressed in Agatha’s blue gown. Everyone assumes the worst except for Georgie. She’s convinced her sister’s still out there, but can she find her before it’s too late?
I’ll fully admit to being envious of those writers who can create an authentic voice for a character in a historical piece, and Amy Timberlake does just that. Georgie is a full-fledged, gun-wielding tomboy of the late nineteenth century. Her narrator voice sweeps us up in her search for her sister.
I also admired how Timberlake creates suspense without being flashy or overly dramatic. I found myself reading late into the night and yet wondering how I could be so invested in a book where “little happened.” This isn’t an action-packed book, yet I found myself caught up in the mystery of what happened to Agatha and what would happen to Georgie. I think part of the suspense-building is due to the way Timberlake works the pigeons into the story. They are a dramatic part of the setting of this story, and their presence is based on the fact that in 1871 south-central Wisconsin was home to the largest nesting of passenger pigeons ever. Of course, one can’t help but think of the Hitchcock movie The Birds, and then you get a sense of how intimidating a giant flock of birds can be.
This is only the third of the Edgar nominees for best juvenile mystery I’ve read so far. It’s been a busy spring, but I hope to finish off the rest of the nominees before the awards next month!