Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
They're not always deep and they're not always tense, but there's something comfortingly familiar about Edgar winner Nixon's (The Other Side of Dark) sure-footed mystery novels. Her fans will be right at home with her latest, in which a teen manages to solve a crime and give the credit to her ditzy mother, a famous mystery writer. Jenny Jakes and her mom travel to San Antonio for the rather unorthodox reading of her still-living millionaire cousin's will. No sooner do they arrive than bodies start to fall. With two murders to solve and several disgruntled relatives as suspects, Jenny helps her mom and an obliging police detective to track the killers. Complicating her life is the charming Carlos, a bellboy who seems unusually interested in Jenny's actionsis he just a potential boyfriend, or something more sinister? Although the plot is somewhat predictable, Jenny, her mother and Carlos at least are lively characters, and there's some welcome (and insightful) humor in their relationships. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)
VOYA - Jane Van Wiemokly
Fifteen-year-old Jenny Jakes's mother is a famous, if somewhat absentminded, mystery writer who is beginning to believe she can solve real murder mysteries as well as her fictional detective sleuth and the police. On a trip to San Antonio to attend the reading of wealthy cousin Arnold Harmony's will (though he is still alive), bodies begin piling up. Mrs. Jakes attempts to help solve the murders, and Jenny decides to unobtrusively aid her, so her mother will not make a fool of herself and ruin her professional reputation as a solver of mysteries, even if it is only in novels. Making himself insistently helpful to Jenny is bellboy Carlos, and the two try to sort through the alibis and motives of the various relatives and employees of Arnold Harmony. Jenny believes Carlos likes her, but she wonders if he is just using her to get information to pass on to a local newspaper columnist. The supporting characters are stereotyped personalities. There is the hard-as-nails personal business manager, the spoiled grandson with bad business sense, the evasive wife, and the "wronged" business associate, to name a few. This story reads like a spoof of television series murder mysteries: characters we know, a run-of-the-mill mystery plot, amazing insights leading to the solution, but fare that we enjoy nonetheless. VOYA Codes: 3Q 4P M (Readable without serious defects, Broad general YA appeal, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8).
School Library Journal
Gr 7-10Not one of Nixon's better productions. Jenny, 15, accompanies her mystery-writer mother, Madeline Jakes, to San Antonio for a distant relative's birthday party. When the elderly man's son is murdered, Madeline and Jenny spring into action. To the delight of her fans, including the homicide division's Detective Sergeant Sam Donovan, Madeline takes on the persona of her fictional female detective. However, it's her bright, capable daughter who really solves the case, feeding her flaky mother ideas and possibilities in a desperate attempt to protect the writer's reputation. While the famous-writer-mother scenario has distinct potential, it's overdone. Madeline's ineptness and Jenny's insight and intelligence are carried to ridiculous extremes. Detective Donovan; Jenny's love interest, Carlos; and the suspects are all stock characters. The whole complicated setup reads like a poor episode of Murder, She Wrote. This is less than adequate fare for an author of Nixon's caliber. Follow Jenny's advice: refer mystery-loving teens to Sue Grafton or Mary Higgins Clark.Ann W. Moore, Schenectady County Public Library, NY
An overweening mother who's meant to be scatterbrained and a murder that never matters are at the center of this cliché-filled mystery from Nixon (Search for the Shadowman, 1996, etc.).
Jenny Jakes and her mother, the famous mystery writer Madeline Jakes, are in San Antonio for a visit: A distant cousin, billionaire Arnold Harmony, plans to celebrate his birthday by having his will read aloud to the beneficiaries. His plans are interrupted when his son, Porter, is murdered at the hotel. Madeline's fans believe she can crack the case, but Jenny knows better: Her dithery mother considers herself an expert on the criminal mind, but can't figure out a mystery she didn't create. Instead, Jenny solves the murder, always careful to credit Madeline as the sleuth. The premise of Jenny's covering for her mother is funny, but it goes so smoothly that it becomes boring; when the murder is reported in the newspaper, Jenny's bell-hop romantic interest, Carlos, also ensures that the story spins Madeline's way. Nixon treats the San Antonio setting as a place readers know, dropping names without describing the place; meanwhile, the characters simply chase around inside the hotel. For savvy mystery-lovers, the detective work is sloppy: The murder scene isn't sealed off, the real detective puts up with contemptuous witnesses, and he allows Madeline (and Jenny and Carlos) in on his investigation. That no one thinks to protect Logan, a character who announces that he knows all and is then murdered, is irresponsible.
Read an Excerpt
It 's not easy being related to a woman who's famous for murdering people.
Don't get me wrong. Mom's not a real murderer. She's Madeline Jakes, the most famous mystery writer in the United States maybe the world. She's a good writer, too, I've never met anyone who could read one of Mom's novels late at night and not have to sleep with the bathroom light on.
So many people have seen Mom's picture on the back of her book jackets and watched her being interviewed on TV that they recognize her in public places. "There's Madeline Jakes!" some whisper. Some point. Maybe because they've been watching too much television, I notice some glance around to see if Mom's with the police, helping to solve a murder at that very moment.
Solve a murder? Mom? It's actually funny. My mom is a woman who half the time can't even figure out where she put her car keys or placed her glasses. She rarely remembers birthdays or doctor appointments or speaking engagements unless she's reminded, Mom has never solved a murder in her life, except for the murders in her books. Because she makes those up, she knows from the very beginning "whodunnit." I don't count them.
Try telling that to Mom. She's actually started to believe what she reads about herself, because when fans ask her about real cases she's solved, she doesn't come right out and say, "What cases? The police have never once asked for my help." Instead she smiles as though she has a big secret. She even giggles, which is really gross behavior for a forty-three-year-old woman. When I hear her murmur something about classified information, I want to . . . well, just imagine!
"If I only had the chance, Jenny," Mom said to me recently, "I know I could use my skills as a mystery writer to solve real crimes.
"Mom," I reminded her, "it's your brother who solves real crimes. Uncle Bill's a homicide detective. You're a writer. You use your imagination and your computer to give your fans stories about make--believe murders.''
Mom tapped a pencil against her nose, smiled, and gazed far away. "But if I had the chance to solve a real crime," she insisted, "I know I could."
It wouldn't have done any good to answer. I fought back the resentment that sometimes boils up and threatens to choke me when Mom goes off into her fictional world like one of her own characters. That's when, more than ever, I wish that Dad were still alive, because whenever Mom became a sailboat, Dad was there as an anchor. And sometimes I want to scream at Mom, "You're the mother, not me! You're supposed to be taking care of me! Why do I end up having to take care of you?"
Dad had been an officer in the Air Force, and we were transferred so much we were never able to make friends who were keepers. When I was little it didn't matter to me, because there were always kids around to play with, but Mom likes people and badly wanted friends, so everywhere we went she joined clubs and took classes in whatever was handy. That's how she became interested in writing. She signed up for a class in "How to Write a Mystery Novel," and found as she told us where she truly belonged.
Her books were published, but Mom didn't make much money with them for the first few years. And when Dad's plane crashed, Mom was so heartbroken I thought she'd never be able to write again. But Mom has always had courage and spunk, and one day she told me, "Jenny, if I work hard and write books that people want to read, I know that someday I can make a good life for you.
Maybe Mom knew all along that her books would be best-sellers and she'd be famous. And maybe somewhere inside her all along was the persona that blossomed overnight. A publicist advised her, "Don't go to interviews or talk shows as a pleasant neighbor-next-door. Your public wants to see a writer of mysteries. That means glamour . . . drama . . . pizzazz!"
The chiffon scarves, the drama, and the "darlings" fit Mom like a beautiful new dress. I didn't mind at first. Mom had always been filled with imagination and fun. However, her new personality has a downside. It may be that the glamorous mystery writer is no longer able to handle all the mundane, routine details of life by herself. Or maybe she enjoys leaving them behind and joining the social life of many of the famous people she meets. Whatever the reason, I end up having to do a lot of the mothering. I'm too young to be a mother especially my mother's mother but there's nothing I can do about it.
In spite of having to deal with a mother who spends much of her life in never-never land, I love my mom. I really do, even during the moments when we seem to be trying to drive each other crazy.
When Mom's not mentally off somewhere inside the story she's writing, she's fun to be with, and often, when she goes away on weekends or holidays, for autographings or to give lectures, she takes me with her. I swim in the hotel pool or lie on the beach, and eat great food. When people smile and ask me, "Do you ever help your mother solve mysteries?" I answer, "I'm the one who helps her remember where she's going so she can catch her plane on time."
They think that's a great joke. Unfortunately for me it isn't a joke.
I've always liked to read mysteries. I think it's because I love the challenge of spotting clues and figuring things out. I started reading Nancy Drews when I was seven. I soon graduated into young adult mysteries stacks and stacks of them and now I'm into some of Dad's old Raymond Chandler and John D. MacDonald stories, and Mom's Sue Grafton and Mary Higgins Clark novels.
I'm pretty good at figuring out whodunnit before the last big scene, but Mom never can. At first I thought that her mind went off in directions she'd take if she were writing the story. Or that she got sidetracked by the characters. Or that maybe she became too tangled in motives and means to recognize the crucial clue when she saw it. But I realized what the problem was when, one day, Mom showed me how she developed and put together the parts of a story.
From the Trade Paperback edition.