Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mystery of the Third Lucretia

Biblio Bits The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt, read by Krista Sutton, Random House/Listening Library 2008 (ISBN 978073936747).

Reading Level/Interest Age 920 lexile/ages 13+

Genre Mystery, Realistic Fiction

Format Audio book

Plot Summary
Kari and Lucas are two fourteen year-old best friends. When Kari's journalist mom gets a new job that requires her to travel more, she agrees to take both girls with her on some of her international business trips. On a visit to the Minneapolis Art Institute, in their home city, they notice an artist set up to copy a Rembrandt painting. When they want a closer look, they are growled at by the artist to "Go. Away!" They term this unfriendly fellow Gallery Guy and don't think much more of the incident. Months later at London's National Gallery, on their first international trip with Kari's mom, they head for the Rembrandt room and suspect that the artist copying another Rembrandt painting is their Gallery Guy, in disguise. The girls shift into surveillance mode, hoping to observe Gallery Guy and glimpse the painting, without his knowledge. They employ disguises of their own, but realize that the stakes are high when the regular guard of the Rembrandt room is suspiciously killed. When a new Rembrandt is discovered in Amsterdam, the girls decide to share their hypothesis with Kari's mom, but are unsure of how to get the art world critics to believe their story.

Critical Evaluation
Two strong female characters, a mix of art, art history, international travel, and culture, not to mention a great mystery---what's not to like? Krista Sutton does an excellent job reading a pretty diverse cast of characters; she conveys a variety of accents with subtle differences, and also pronounces Dutch street and place names with apparent ease (no mean feat!). This debut novel has many appealing elements, particularly the realistic friendship between Kari and Lucas. Their minor spats and tiffs, as well as their sillier moments (conducting giddy mock interviews in the bathroom at the National Gallery), are just as I remember my friendships in middle school. The initial coincidences begin to arrange themselves into a mystery and the girls trust their instincts and each other as they follow the clues. Sometimes their instincts are not always that brilliant, as when they decide one night to venture into The Quarter (the seediest part of Amsterdam), dressed to blend in (as prostitutes), in an effort to conduct surveillance on Gallery Guy's studio. The conclusion was definitely intense and nerve-wracking, as the threads of the story wove together. Fans will be glad to know that more Kari and Lucas mysteries are planned.

Reader's Annotation
Lucas and Kari are just two girls in middle school with the usual family problems. But their lives take an unexpected---and dangerous---turn when they suspect a major art forgery during their European travels. How will they get the grown-up art world to believe their story?

Author Information
Susan Runholt is a fan of travel, music, food, art, and feminism. She is the single mother of a grown daughter, who has been a consultant on this title and the subsequent installments. Runholt and her daughter, Annalisa, attended many exhibits at the Minneapolis Museum of Art when Annalisa was young. They attended a Rembrandt exhibit there that moved Annalisa to tears, and this event was an inspiration for The Mystery of the Third Lucretia. This is Runholt's first published work. (Information in this author bio is from here.)

Challenge issues
There are some mature themes here that contribute to the subplots of the story, such as the prostitution industry in Amsterdam, rape, and sexual abuse. There are no explicit details, but the references might spark further questions and discussion.

Booktalking Ideas
This would be a natural book to include in a booktalk on art and artists, particularly Rembrandt or Dutch masters, and a great pairing (if a little more mature) with the series by Blue Balliett that begins with Chasing Vermeer (2004).

Curriculum Ties
Oooooh, lots of great links for art teachers! The true crime genre of art theft and forgery has a lot of appeal for kids and adults. I could envision this book tying into an art class on painting and old masters. Many middle school art classes include an assignment where students are asked to paint a reproduction of a famous painting. There are some great passages that describe the need to observe the texture of the paint, the colors, etc. in person, which is what Gallery Guy is up to. What can students still observe from good-quality reproductions? What is lost/gained?

Why this book?
In the mood for a good mystery, and knowing that certain tweens I know have trouble finding mysteries amidst all the fantasy and vampire books out there, I checked the Debut Dagger Awards site and noted that Susan Runholt had been "commended" for this work of young adult fiction.

Rescuing Seneca Crane (2009)


Rockport Public Library owns?

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