Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson, illustrated by Natalie Andrewson. June 2015. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. 336 pages. Ages 8-12.
Twelve-year old Tabitha Crum has a lonely existence. Her self-centered and neglectful parents don't seem to care about her and treat her like a servant, dressing her in ill-fitting, drab second-hand clothes. Her shyness and appearance set her apart from her classmates at school, and sometimes make her a target of teasing. Her only friend is Pemberly, an orphaned mouse she saved as a baby.
Then one day, everything changes. Just as her parents are planning to abandon her at an orphanage and leave the country, Tabitha and a classmate each receive a mysterious invitation to spend the weekend with the reclusive Countess of Windermere, who is known for her charity and generosity, along with four other children. Once there, the children are shocked to find out they were all adopted after being abandoned on the doorstep of an orphanage, and the countess believes that one of them is her long lost grandchild and heir.
The more time Tabitha spends at the Countess of Windermere's estate, the more she suspects things are not as they seem. The Countess's odd behavior, the death of an elderly former maid, the disappearance of two of the other possible heirs, mysterious sounds and rumors of ghosts, accompanied by the discovery of hidden passageways and peepholes.
Will Tabitha solve the mystery before anyone else dies or disappears? Will she ever have a real family that loves her? Is the house really haunted?
This story, set in 1906 London, has all the features of a traditional English mystery: a gathering of seemingly unrelated people, mysterious deaths and disappearances when the lights go out, an inheritance, and secret passageways in an old manor. While the plot is fairly predictable to an adult, younger middle-grade readers will probably find it full of suspense and unexpected twists and turns. I would recommend this to Roald Dahl fans and any younger reader who likes traditional mysteries.
This book reminded me of The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart in some ways: a small group of children receiving mysterious invitations, long-lost relatives and unknown twins, hidden rooms and passageways. While The Mysterious Benedict Society is set in modern times and involves recruiting children to be an elite team of special agents, I think fans of one will enjoy the other as well.
Clue In The Castle Tower: A Samantha Mystery by Sarah Masters Bucky is also a historical mystery set in early 20th-century England with a female protagonist visiting an old castle with it's own mystery and ghost stories.