Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Grimes's mystery-spinning skills take a backseat to character development and human relationships in her second, quite appealing "literary'' novel (after The End of the Pier). She etches an enchanting portrait of spunky Emma Graham, the 12-year-old narrator, an incorrigibly inquisitive girl with a love of rib-sticking food. Tethered to table-waiting responsibilities in the family's frayed-at-the-edges resort hotel, Emma's only connection to youngsters her age is her consuming interest in the death by drowning of another 12-year-old girl 40 years ago: wearing a party dress, Mary-Evelyn Devereau apparently fell from a rowboat on nearby Spirit Lake in the middle of the night. Cleverly manipulating crotchety old ladies and backwoodsy old men in her pursuit of answers, Emma discovers that Mary-Evelyn's aunt Rose ran off with Ben Queen. The recent murder of their daughter, Fern Queen, and the spectral presence of a girl resembling the deceased Rose compound Emma's quest. Emma's take on the colorful characters in her small-town world-from the "bedeviled by silence" retarded Wood brothers to her great aunt Aurora, who lives on gin and fried chicken delivered by hotel dumbwaiter-makes this both a provocative study of lonely people and a delightful read. The suspense is value-added. (May)
School Library Journal
YASwirling in a fog of hints and possibilities, Hotel Paradise leaves readers pondering and replaying the story over and over again. Told from the point of view of a bright 12-year-old girl and set in small-town America, it begs comparison with Olive Burns's Cold Sassy Tree (Ticknor & Fields, 1984) and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. With her father dead, her older brother occupied with his own pursuits, and her mother obsessed by the managing of Hotel Paradise, the young heroine is ignored and adrift. Friendless except for the few adults in the nearby town who take an interest in her, she is nameless until the end of the book. She becomes obsessed by an event that occurred 40 years previously, the drowning of another ignored and unloved 12-year-old, Mary-Evelyn Devereau. When a Devereau relative is found murdered, the narrator sets out to connect all the clues and solve the mystery. Grimes's depiction of the main character's observations and imagination rings true. This book should appeal to YAs in its descriptions of family, adults, and life situations from a young person's point of view. The lack of a neat ending may be disappointing at first, but there is so much food for thought in this book that many teens will find it enjoyable and thought-provoking.Carol DeAngelo, Garcia Consulting Inc., at EPA, Washington, D.C.
Billed as a mystery, Grimes' latest has all the right elements: eerie suspense, creepy old houses where ghosts linger, murky lakes, deserted lanes, cobwebby memories of past tragedies, love, and murder. The real appeal of this superb book, though, is beyond genre. Grimes has written a quirky, bittersweet coming-of-age story that is as full of laugh-aloud humor as it is of the angst only a dreamy, lonely 12-year-old can feel when the world around her is ripe, promising, and full of tantalizing questions. Emma Graham, who works as a salad girl at the decaying resort hotel where her mother cooks, loves her mother's food almost as much as she loves investigating situations that stimulate her active imagination--like the mysterious death 40 years earlier of young Mary-Evelyn Devereau, who lived with three ugly aunts and drowned, silk-clad and sad, in nearby Spirit Lake. Emma pursues the Mary-Evelyn mystery with single-minded determination, and during the course of her investigation, finds answers to questions she didn't even know she wanted to ask. Emma is a delight and a wonder as she pursues the secrets behind Mary-Evelyn's untimely demise, and Grimes' delicately pithy perceptions of Emma's puzzling and wonderful world and the yearning, often sidesplittingly funny musings of a wise-beyond-her-years, one-of-a-kind heroine make for an enchanting read. One of the year's best!
Grimes, who's been edging away from the whodunit in her last several cases for Supt. Richard Jury (Rainbow's End, 1995, etc.), dismisses Jury completely in this crossover novel about a young girl's obsession with a suspicious 40-year-old death.
There's plenty to do around La Porte's Hotel Paradise, the small-town hostelry Emma Graham's family has run for a hundred years. Despite her youth, Emma's mother has her helping in the kitchen and waiting tables for the few customers who keep the Paradise in business. But there's not much to think about, and it's no wonder that Emma, spellbound by the recent apparition of a mysterious blond girl, fixes on the story of Mary-Evelyn Devereau, drowned in Spirit Lake when she was 12, Emma's own age. What was Mary-Evelyn doing out alone in a boat at night, wearing one of her best dresses, and why didn't her family report her missing till the next morning? Idly at first, then with a deepening passion, Emma launches an investigation into this forgotten mystery, eagerly questioning anyone who remembers Mary- Evelyn, and poring over every scrap of physical evidence she can find. Extravagant obstacles stand in the way of an inconsequential girl's attempts at detection: Barely anybody around La Porte seems to remember or care about the case at all, and they certainly aren't about to share their recollections with the likes of her. Yet Emma, as a friendly fortuneteller assures her, is "resolute" enough to endure the indifference of everyone in La Porte but Sheriff Sam DeGheyn and to interrogate a pair of subverbal brothers, call endless taxis to nearby Cold Flat Junction, and confront a newly released convict in a magical climax.
The originality herethe convention of a radically disempowered detective set against a densely imagined but indifferent worldwill remind some readers of Barbara Vine, others of the Henry James of "In the Cage" and The Awkward Age. It shows off Grimes's gifts for extravagant digression beautifully.
Read an Excerpt
from Chapter One, pp. 3-4:
It's a blowing day. The wind feels weighted and the air like iron. As I walked the half-mile to the lake this evening, I could hardly push against this heaviness that settled on me like a coat of snow.
I have been sitting on this low mossy wall for an hour, but I can't see the Devereau house, or if there is any light in it. The woods are so thick by the spring, they blot out the other side of the lake like ink spilled across the page I'm reading. This time I brought a book; I mean to wait, though I don't think he'll be back.
I wonder now if there are mysteries never meant to be solved. Or not meant to be solved to a certainty, for I do have some idea of what must have happened near White's Bridge. I've found out the answers to a lot of questions, but those answers pull more questions out of hiding, ones I never would have thought to ask.
I think I know how Fern died and who killed her. But I don't know why, exactly. I have to guess at the why. Even if I was absolutely sure, I would still not tell the police, not even the Sheriff. Some things mean more than the law. I have not sat through all of Clint Eastwood's old westerns for nothing. Clint doesn't always hound a rustler to his grave, not if there's a reason to let him off more important than a dozen law-abiding reasons to arrest him. Call it cowpoke justice. I hear people say "It's between me and my conscience," but I think it's awful risky to go by your conscience, for your conscience can be pretty leaky. I think Clint would agree.
Anyway. That was the decision I made this morning, not to tell the Sheriff, and it weighs mighty heavily upon me. What I discovered overthe past couple of weeks is that what I think is a difficult decision to make is really a difficult decision to make. And what I think is hard and painful is truly hard and painful.
I guess that doesn't sound like much learnt, but I think it is.
From the Paperback edition.