Thursday, August 14, 2014

Middle-Grade Review: P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows

When my oldest son was in middle school, one of his favorite series was Caroline Lawrence’s The Roman Mysteries, featuring four friends in Ancient Rome solving mysteries Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew-style. Now, Lawrence has turned her considerable mystery-writing talents to a new historical realm, the American Old West, with similar exciting results.

I recently listened to P.K. Pinkerton and the Pistol-Packing Widows on audio and met P.K., a 12-year old detective, for the first time (though this is the third book in the series). P.K. is an orphan who lives in Virginia City in the Nevada Territory in the early 1860’s. Kidnapped and taken to Chinatown, P.K. is forced to take on an unusual case, tracking his abductor’s fiancĂ©e to Carson City and keeping an eye on him. P.K.’s friend, Jace, is in Carson City and seems to be in danger of falling for a “Black Widow,” whose previous husbands have all died suspicious deaths.

The journey itself is wrought with danger. Once in Carson City, P.K. must don many disguises and sneak into the newly formed territorial Legislature in order to keep up with his target and find out what he’s up to. Like any good mystery, the plot twists and turns as P.K. gets into one difficult situation after another, until finally, in order to save his own life, he must give up his most closely guarded secret.

The audio book was engaging and well-done, with the narrator using different voices for different characters. P.K.’s voice has a decided Western twang that I got used to pretty quickly. The audio quickly captured my attention and kept me interested. The print and Kindle editions include some fun maps at the beginning to help set the scene.

As with The Roman Mysteries, Lawrence has created another unique blend of mystery and historical fiction for young readers that is fast-paced and interesting. P.K. Pinkerton is a likeable main character that both male and female readers will cheer for. The historical details are not only accurate but made me want to learn more (I looked up Nevada Territory and Carson City after finishing the book!), and the mystery provides classic suspense and surprises. I’m sure that the P.K. Pinkerton books will find a whole new group of young fans (but be sure to tell your middle-grade mystery lovers about The Roman Mysteries, too!)

304 pages, Putnam Juvenile/ Listening Library

P.S. I started with book 3 and had no trouble catching up, but mystery fans may want to start at the beginning with P.K. Pinkerton and the Deadly Desperados.

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