Invisible Detective: Double Life is the first book in Justin Richards' Invisible Detective series of mysteries for third to sixth graders. I found the book to be both creepy and appealing. It's a historical mystery, crossed with a present-day mystery, with supernatural overtones, and plenty of Gothic menace. The story is told mostly in the past, just before World War II, with the shadow of Hitler looming over London. The end of each chapter, however, features a page or two set in modern-day London.
Both stories feature a boy named Arthur Drake, and in each story, Arthur has odd flashes of knowledge about a different world. The modern-day Arthur acquires an old notebook and a mysterious stone from an antique store, and struggles to understand how this more than 60-year-old notebook can be in his own handwriting. Meanwhile the 1930s Arthur is part of a posse of kids who work for Brandon Lake, the Invisible Detective. The Invisible Detective solves small mysteries for local citizens, even though Brandon Lake doesn't actually exist.
In this book, the four children (who call themselves the Cannoniers) work together to solve a mystery featuring disappearing people and strangely life-like puppets. The characters of the four kids are well-drawn, and the plot (featuring late night chases through London, mysterious black cars, government officials, and a beautiful girl with metal cages on her legs) is deliciously creepy.
All in all, I found it to be an odd little tale, but the alternating past and present viewpoints really kept me turning the pages. I look forward to reading the next book in the series, because I want to know what happens next to the young Cannoniers. I think that this series will be a big hit with young readers looking for mysteries with a bit of a spooky, supernatural slant. I can see the books appealing in particular to boys who are reluctant readers, perhaps those who have outgrown the Goosebumps books, but still want something relatively short, and definitely suspenseful. The same boys who, a little bit later, will become fans of Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider adventures.
This series was originally published in the U.K. The first three books are now available in the U.S., and at least five others are available in the U.K. Justin Richards lives with his wife and two sons in Warwick, England. He is also a creative consultant for BBC Books Doctor Who titles. You can learn more by visiting the Invisible Detective website.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.