“A must-have series for middle-grade readers.” Booklist
In the third book in R.A. Spratt's hilarious Friday Barnes Mystery series, crime hits close to home when Friday Barnes learns her mother has been kidnapped. But her detective work gets put aside when Friday is distracted by other happenings at school: a new VIP student (a Norwegian princess!) has just arrived and a master thief called the Pimpernel is causing chaos across campus. Can super sleuth and girl genius Friday crack the case of her missing mother, reign in a royal brat, and unmask the elusive Pimpernel?
Big Trouble: A Friday Barnes Mystery brings the same wit and humor that kept readers puzzling and laughing in Friday Barnes, Girl Detective and Friday Barnes Under Suspicion.
About the Author
R.A. Spratt is an award-winning author and television writer. Her Nanny Piggins series went into nine best selling volumes in Australia. She lives in Bowral, Australia with her husband, two daughters and a puppy called Henry. Like Friday Barnes, R.A. enjoys wearing a silly hat.
Phil Gosier is an independent art director and designer working in the Washington, D.C. area. His illustration and design clients include Kellogg's, the Discovery Channel, Marvel and DC Comics, and Macmillan. At Macmillan, Phil has worked on the Friday Barnes Mystery series and the picture book Snow Beast Comes to Play. He graduated from the University of Maryland and lives in suburban Maryland with his family.
Read an Excerpt
Big Trouble: A Friday Barnes Mystery
By R. A. Spratt, Phil Gosier
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2015 R. A. Spratt
All rights reserved.
The Disappearing Doctor
Friday Barnes was running as fast as she could across the Highcrest Academy campus, which admittedly wasn't too fast because running wasn't her strong suit. She had just heard the shocking news that her father had turned up and taken over a physics lesson, and she was desperate to get to that classroom to minimize whatever public embarrassment he was undoubtedly causing.
Friday's best friend, Melanie Pelly, ran with her, and Ian Wainscott came along as well. Ian was either Friday's arch nemesis or her love interest. Nobody was quite sure which, least of all Ian and Friday. They were inexplicably drawn to each other, but Friday had put Ian's dad in jail for insurance fraud and it is hard to get past that sort of thing in a relationship. And yet wherever there was a dramatic public confrontation involving Friday, Ian was always there.
When they burst through the classroom door they saw the science teacher, Mr. Davies, slumped at a desk, holding his head in his hands. All the students looked very brain-addled and confused. At the front of the room Friday's father, Dr. Barnes, was scrawling equations over every last square inch of the whiteboard.
"You see here, X is a photon or Z-boson, and here X and Y are two electroweak bosons such that the charge is conserved ..." droned Dr. Barnes. He had whiteboard marker and egg stains on his saggy brown cardigan, and it didn't look like his hair had been brushed at any time in the last decade.
"Dad, stop!" cried Friday. "You're hurting their brains!" Dr. Barnes looked up and adjusted his glasses. "Ah, Friday. Yes, that's why I'm here. I've come to see you."
"Then why have you taken over Mr. Davies's class?" asked Friday.
"I was looking for you when I walked past here," said Dr. Barnes, "and I saw the lesson he was teaching. He clearly needed help. His explanation was childlike."
"These are children," said Friday. "He was explaining physics to children."
Dr. Barnes turned and looked at the class. He adjusted his glasses on his nose again. "Oh yes, I suppose so. I hadn't considered that."
"The family resemblance is remarkable," said Melanie.
"Yes," agreed Ian. "And it's not just the brown cardigan. It's the total ignorance of social normality."
"Not now," said Friday, before going over to her father. "Dad, why were you looking for me? You never have before. Not even the time you left me at the mall, not realizing that I wasn't in the car."
"What?" said Dr. Barnes. "I don't recall the data to which you're referring."
Friday sighed. "Of course you don't. Just tell me, why are you here?"
"Oh," said Dr. Barnes. Suddenly his eyes welled with tears and his chin wobbled. "It's Dr. Barnes."
"Isn't that you?" asked Melanie.
"No, the other Dr. Barnes," said Dr. Barnes.
"Mom?" asked Friday.
"Yes, her," said Dr. Barnes.
"What's happened to Mom?" asked Friday.
"She's disappeared," said Dr. Barnes as he dissolved into sobs.
Friday took her father outside so he could compose himself. She sat him at a picnic table with a strategically placed box of tissues in front of him just in case he burst into tears again. Melanie and Ian stood by.
"What do you mean Mom's disappeared?" asked Friday. "She can't have stopped existing. She must be somewhere."
"All I know is that yesterday morning while I was eating breakfast I looked up and noticed she wasn't at the table!" said Dr. Barnes.
"That is a bad sign," Friday said, then turned to explain to her friends. "Mom never misses breakfast. She has an alarm set on her wristwatch to remind her when to eat."
"When I reflected on the available evidence, I realized I had no memory of her sitting at the table for dinner the night before," said Dr. Barnes. "So I investigated further and discovered she was nowhere in the house."
"Wow," said Friday, "and you noticed this in under twenty-four hours? I'm impressed."
"So I called her office at the university, and she wasn't there either," said Dr. Barnes. "I'm worried that she's been kidnapped!"
"Who would want to kidnap Mom?" asked Friday.
"Theoretical physics has all sorts of practical applications," said Dr. Barnes. "She might have been kidnapped by an arms manufacturer."
"Or aliens," said Melanie. "They like kidnapping people too."
"Have you called the police?" asked Ian.
"Why? Do you think they arrested her?" asked Dr. Barnes.
"No, to file a missing person report," said Friday.
"I hadn't thought of that," said Dr. Barnes. "Is that the type of thing police do? I'd hate to trouble them if it's not their field."
"Of course it's their field," said Friday.
"I think your father is even vaguer than I am," said Melanie.
"You should call the police right now," said Friday.
"All right," said Dr. Barnes. "Do you know their phone number?"
"Don't tell me you don't know the phone number for the emergency services," said Friday.
"Why?" asked Dr. Barnes. "Is it my birth date or something?"
"It's nine one one," said Friday.
"That's not my birthday," said Dr. Barnes.
"I'll call them," said Friday. "Then we can meet the police at your house. They'll want to search for evidence before the trail goes cold."
"I don't follow. The ambient temperature is pleasantly balmy," said Dr. Barnes. "I can't see why a trail would go cold."
"It's a figure of speech, Dad," said Friday. "I'm not literally talking about a low-temperature footpath."
"Really? Fascinating," said Dr. Barnes.
* * *
It was a two-hour drive to the Barneses' family home. Melanie went along with Friday, supposedly for emotional support, but really so she could get out of classes for the rest of the day. Friday tried questioning Dr. Barnes (her father) as he drove, but she had to give up because he was a terrible driver and it was distracting him too much. He nearly drove into an oncoming ice-cream truck while trying to remember what his wife had been wearing the last time he saw her. When they pulled up at the Barnes family's ordinary suburban home, the police were already there. They had marked off the whole front yard with crime scene tape.
"Oh my goodness!" exclaimed Dr. Barnes. "What's happened here?"
"Mother has gone missing," Friday reminded him. "We called the police about it two hours ago."
"And they've done all this already?" said Dr. Barnes. He was a university academic, so he was not used to anyone taking action with any degree of rapidity.
"Come on," said Friday. "Let's talk to the officer in charge."
They all got out of the car. Melanie and Dr. Barnes hung back while Friday ducked under the tape and started walking toward the front door.
"Stop right there!" snapped an angry-looking woman in a beige pantsuit. "If you take one more step, I'll arrest you."
Friday froze, one foot hovering midair.
"This is a crime scene," said the pantsuit woman. "With every step you take, you are contaminating the evidence."
"It may be a crime scene, but it's also my family home," said Friday, "and the missing person is my mother. If you allow me to put my foot down and continue walking into the building, I will probably be able to assist the officer in charge."
"I am the officer in charge," said the pantsuit woman. "My name is Detective Summers, and my experience with children is that they are anything but helpful."
"Well, you could have my father come in and have a look around to see what is missing or misplaced," said Friday. "But he is a theoretical physicist, with tenure, so he is about as aware of his physical surroundings as a dead geranium."
"That's ridiculous," said Detective Summers. "He's the victim's husband."
"Allow me to demonstrate," said Friday, turning to her father, who was still on the other side of the tape. "Dad, what day of the week is it?"
"What?" said Dr. Barnes.
"Do you know what day of the week it is?" repeated Friday.
"I suppose it's one of them," said Dr. Barnes. "I don't know ... It will say on the calendar, I presume."
"Can you narrow it down?" asked Friday. "If you concentrate really hard, can you work out whether it is a weekday or a weekend?"
"How on earth could I be expected to know that?" asked Dr. Barnes.
"You just picked me up from school and classes were in session," said Friday. "So you should be able to deduce that it is a weekday."
"Oh yes, that line of reasoning does follow," agreed Dr. Barnes. "I hadn't really thought about it."
"What color are Mom's eyes?" continued Friday.
"Her eyes?" said Dr. Barnes. "Well, they're eye-colored, I suppose."
"Think hard, Dad," urged Friday. "You've been married for twenty-eight years. In all that time, have you ever looked at Mom and noticed what color her eyes were?"
"Blue ... or maybe brown," said Dr. Barnes. "One of those two colors, I'd say."
"Behold my father's power of observation," said Friday.
"There must be an adult family member I can talk to," said Detective Summers.
"Yes, I do have four adult brothers and sisters," said Friday. "Quantum, Quasar, Halley, and Orion. They're all top physicists, too. You could get in touch with one of them."
"Oh no, you can't do that," said Dr. Barnes, shaking his head.
"Why not?" asked Friday.
"I tried already. I couldn't get hold of any of them this morning," said Dr. Barnes. "None of them answered the phone when I called. That's why I had to go and get Friday."
Friday was a little hurt. "I should have known I wouldn't be the first person you'd contact."
"So your four older children are missing as well?" asked Detective Summers. "And you didn't think to mention this before?"
"Could it be relevant?" asked Dr. Barnes.
Detective Summers looked like she wanted to slap Dr. Barnes. She took a deep breath, then turned to Friday. "Perhaps you had better be the one to come inside."CHAPTER 2
Inside the House
Friday wasn't allowed into the house until she was decked out in a full crime scene suit, which included white paper coveralls, white booties, a face mask, and a shower cap.
"You do realize that my fingerprints, hair, and skin cells will be all over the house already?" said Friday. "I did live here for eleven years."
"When it comes to evidence, you can never be too careful," said Detective Summers, leading Friday up the walkway. When she reached the front door she stopped and turned to Friday. For the first time Detective Summers had a look of compassion on her face. "Before we enter the house, I should warn you — what you see will be upsetting. Whoever took your mother made a real mess. The house has been completely turned upside down. They must have been searching for something. Your mother's research notes, perhaps. I know it can be distressing to see your family home violated."
A lump formed in Friday's throat. She nodded because she didn't think she could trust herself to speak. It wasn't until now that it occurred to her that the kidnapper might have handled her mother roughly.
Her mother might not have been the world's best mother. But she wasn't a bad person. Dr. Barnes lived in the theoretical world — she spent all her time inside her own mind, so to trick her into getting into a stranger's car would have been the easiest thing in the world. All you'd have to do was say, "Get in the car, Dr. Barnes, I'm here to take you to a conference," and she'd be halfway to Mauritius before it crossed her mind to wonder where she was going. Friday hoped the kidnappers hadn't hurt her mother.
Apart from being one of the world's leading scientists, Dr. Barnes was Friday's mom. And she had only one mom. And she'd rather have a distracted, self-absorbed mother than no mother at all.
Detective Summers held open the front door and Friday stepped inside. She walked down the short corridor to the living room and then stopped. Three white-suited crime scene investigators were taking samples in the room, which was strange enough. It looked like aliens were paying an afternoon visit to her home. But as Friday looked around, she noticed the total dishevelment. There were papers and periodicals strewn everywhere. Cupboards hanging open, a broken mug on the kitchen floor, breakfast cereal trampled into the carpet, and a chair overturned. Friday took it all in.
"Are you all right?" asked Detective Summers.
"Of course I am," said Friday. "This is what the house always looks like."
"It is?!" asked Detective Summers.
"Well, not always," said Friday. "When I lived here, I used to tidy up after Mom and Dad as much as I could. But if I ever went away to camp or stayed with Uncle Bernie for a couple of days, the house would always look like this when I came back."
"But it looks like it's been ransacked," said Detective Summers.
"I know," agreed Friday. "Mom and Dad don't have very good life management skills. I really should have arranged some sort of caregiver to look after them when I moved out. What they really need is a nanny — someone to tell them when to eat, when to brush their teeth, and when to go to bed."
"Well, your mother's still missing," said Detective Summers. "Plus your brothers and sisters. There must be something going on. If five of the nation's leading physicists have been kidnapped, that is going to be a huge deal."
"Are you sure she has been kidnapped?" asked Friday. "Perhaps there's another explanation."
"Yes, we're sure," said Detective Summers. "I didn't want to upset you or your father, but there was a note."
"From Mother?" asked Friday.
"Yes," said Detective Summers. "Whoever took her allowed her to leave a brief message."
"May I see it?" asked Friday.
Detective Summers looked doubtful. "You're a child. I don't want to do anything that might traumatize you. Police departments are forever getting sued for things like that."
"I won't sue," said Friday. "For starters, I'm not in touch enough with my emotions to be traumatized. The Barneses are big on suppressing all emotion. Just show me the note; I promise I'll be fine. At least for the foreseeable future. If I have any psychological repercussions, I'm sure they won't become apparent for years."
"All right," said Detective Summers, taking a plastic evidence bag out of her notebook. It looked like a sandwich bag, but it didn't contain a sandwich. It contained a crumpled handwritten note.
Friday took the bag carefully by the corner and inspected it closely.
"As you can see, the handwriting is barely legible," said Detective Summers. "She was clearly extremely distressed when she wrote it. Perhaps she had to do it in a hurry while her kidnappers weren't looking."
Friday peered closer. The letters barely looked like the standard Roman alphabet. It was as if they'd been furtively stabbed into the page, literally tearing up the paper fibers and blotting ink as she wrote.
"Can you make out what it says?" asked Detective Summers. "Our cryptographers have been working on it, but they haven't had much luck yet."
"Yes," said Friday. "It reads, They are taking me away now. I tried to argue. They leave me no choice. I am being forced. Farewell."
"The poor woman," said Detective Summers.
"Hmm," said Friday. "May I have a look around to see if anything is missing?"
"Of course," said Detective Summers. She followed Friday into the bedroom. The bed was unmade. The drawers were hanging open and clothes were strewn about.
"You'll never be able to tell what's missing in all this mess," said Detective Summers.
Friday opened the wardrobe. There were very few clothes hanging inside. Just a couple of shirts. The wardrobe was mainly full of old scientific periodicals, which had been untidily stacked on the floor up to waist height.
"That's interesting," said Friday.
"What?" asked Detective Summers.
"Her dress is missing," said Friday.
"Which dress?" asked Detective Summers.
"Her only dress," said Friday. "Mother has no interest in clothes or fashion. She owns one navy-blue dress. For weddings, formal dinners, and things like that. And that one dress isn't here."
"What does that mean?" asked Detective Summers.
"I'm not sure," said Friday. "Let's take a look in the kitchen."
Friday led Detective Summers to the kitchen, where she opened a cupboard and took down a canister that said Sugar in blue print.
"What's sugar got to do with this?" asked Detective Summers.
"My mother doesn't believe in processed sugar," said Friday. "She never has it in the house." Friday opened the canister and looked inside. It was empty. "This is where she keeps her passport," said Friday.
"So the kidnapper took her passport?" said the detective. "This is serious. If she's been missing since yesterday, she could be anywhere in the world by now."
Friday stared into the canister. "I have a suspicion where my mother might be."
"Where?" asked Detective Summers.
"What's the date?" asked Friday.
"Sixteenth of October. Why?" asked Detective Summers.
Friday sighed. "Because the tenth of December is the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's death, and the traditional pre-ceremony lecture tour of Europe takes about seven weeks."
"What's that supposed to mean?" asked Detective Summers, looking baffled.
Excerpted from Big Trouble: A Friday Barnes Mystery by R. A. Spratt, Phil Gosier. Copyright © 2015 R. A. Spratt. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Previously in Friday Barnes ...,
Chapter 1. The Disappearing Doctor,
Chapter 2. Inside the House,
Chapter 3. Sweden,
Chapter 4. Dad in Tow,
Chapter 5. The Headmaster's Troubles,
Chapter 6. The Next-Door Neighbor,
Chapter 7. A Dangerous Letter,
Chapter 8. Letter Tracking,
Chapter 9. Ian's Mother,
Chapter 10. The Wainscott Residence,
Chapter 11. The Savage Dog,
Chapter 12. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words,
Chapter 13. The Telltale Scale Model of Saturn,
Chapter 14. Trouble with Binky,
Chapter 15. The Potato Dash,
Chapter 16. The Case of the Missing Microwave,
Chapter 17. Microwave Not Safe,
Chapter 18. The Case of the Voice in the Night,
Chapter 19. Sleuthing Sleepover,
Chapter 20. What Happened Below,
Chapter 21. The Framing of Dr. Barnes,
Chapter 22. Springing Dr. Barnes,
Chapter 23. The Pretender,
Chapter 24. The Match,
Chapter 25. The King's Daughter,
Chapter 26. The Truth Revealed,
Also by R. A. Spratt,
About the Author and Illustrator,