Meg investigates the theft of a rare book from a locked library. Clues hidden in different places in the library challenge the reader to solve the mystery before Meg.
About the Author
Lucinda Landon is a children’s book illustrator and the author of American History Mysteries and the Meg Mackintosh Mystery series. She lives in Foster, Rhode Island.
Read an Excerpt
Meg Mackintosh and the Mystery in the Locked Library
A Solve-It-Yourself Mystery
By Lucinda Landon
Secret Passage PressCopyright © 1993 Lucinda Landon
All rights reserved.
This cereal looks like bark and twigs," Meg Mackintosh said to her brother Peter.
"I guess Alice thought we'd like it." Peter shrugged. "She bought it just for our visit."
"Hey, look out! You almost ate the coupon." Meg quickly snatched a folded piece of paper from Peter's spoon. "Wait a minute. This doesn't look like a coupon."
"Yeah, it's not shiny enough," said Peter. "Quick! Read it before the ink runs."
Gramps peered over Meg's shoulder. "What is it? A secret message from a cereal factory?"
Meg scanned the note. "It's from Alice!" she said. "Gramps, she's still calling you Georgie Porgie."
"She must have snuck the note into the cereal before she went to work at the library," said Gramps. "That's my cousin, sly as ever."
"This sounds urgent." Meg reached for her detective knapsack. "A mystery in the locked library — fantastic!"
"Outsmarting thieves!" Peter jumped up. "And I was afraid this would be a boring vacation."
"Life's never boring with Cousin Alice." Gramps sighed. "Now what is she up to, hiding valuable objects? I bet it's just another prank. Remember my missing Babe Ruth baseball?" He shook his head. "Well, you can count me out. I don't want anything to do with her latest scheme."
"But Gramps, you've got to come," Meg pleaded.
"Oh, all right, but only to make sure she doesn't get you in any trouble," said Gramps. "And I'm bringing my radio so I don't miss the ball game."
Meg dug her notebook out of her knapsack and started writing. "Let's brainstorm, Peter. The key is hidden somewhere that rhymes with crook stop."
"Took mop?" Peter suggested. "Come on. We'll figure it out when we get there." They headed for the door.
WHERE DO YOU THINK THE KEY COULD BE?
The library was only a few blocks' walk from Alice's house.
"What exactly do you think we're supposed to look for?" Peter asked.
"It must be pretty important," said Meg. She took out her instant camera and viewed the scene.
"You know Alice," said Gramps. "She loves clues and mysteries. And she's not going to make it easy for you." Meg focused her camera on the library and snapped a picture. Then she noticed something.
"Hey, I know where the key is!" Meg exclaimed. "At the book drop! That rhymes with crook stop."
"That's so obvious." Peter rolled his eyes.
"Then why didn't you get it?" They raced up the steps and began searching the book drop for the key.
"If it's dropped inside, we'll have to do the old chewing-gum-and-string trick to get it," Peter said. "Feel around underneath. Maybe the key is taped to the bottom."
"You're right!" Meg called out. "Here it is. It's got a note with it, too."
WHERE SHOULD MEG GO NEXT?
They quietly entered the cool, dim library. Peter flicked on the lights while Meg relocked the door.
"Sherlock? Alice must mean Sherlock Holmes, the world's greatest detective," said Meg.
"'Watch the clock,'" Peter added. "Maybe something's hidden in that old clock."
"Maybe," Meg replied. "But I think Alice means we have to keep track of the time ... and hurry."
"Now why would Alice want you to hurry?" Gramps asked. "There's no one else around."
"She's afraid someone might steal the valuable object after the library opens at noon," Meg replied.
"I wish I had my camera," said Peter. "Meg-O, let me borrow yours. Maybe I'll spot something valuable."
"Okay." Meg handed it over. "But don't drop it." Just then, they heard a sound from behind a shelf of books.
An older boy stepped out from behind the encyclopedias. "Hey, what's going on here?" he asked.
"I'm Alice Mackintosh's cousin," Gramps explained.
"She gave us a key," added Meg.
"We're solving a mystery," Peter blurted out.
"Shhh, big mouth." Meg elbowed Peter.
The boy looked puzzled. "Well, Alice is the head librarian. If it's okay with her, it's okay with me." He shook hands with Gramps. "I'm Gerry. I help out around here."
A ringing phone interrupted them, and Gerry went to the checkout desk to answer it.
"That was Alice's dentist," he told them after he hung up. "She hasn't shown up for her appointment."
"Oh, she's always late," said Gramps as he looked at the map of the library posted on the wall. "I'll be in the reading room listening to the game. Let me know if you need me."
"Come on, Peter." Meg tugged his sleeve. "Let's get to work."
Peter was busy taking photos. "Okay, where do we start?"
WHERE WOULD YOU START TO LOOK?
"The clue says, 'Check out an old Sherlock.' Maybe there's a clue over there." Meg headed to the checkout desk. She began flipping through the file cards on books that were checked out. "No Sherlock Holmes books here," she called over to Peter.
Peter was frantically pulling out card catalog drawers. "It's already ten-thirty, and the library opens at noon. That doesn't give us much time. Alice must have had a hunch the valuable object was in danger."
Meg tapped the desktop impatiently, then reread the clue. " 'Be sure to go to the right section. Checking dates is good detection.' "
"I can't find anything under Sherlock," Peter muttered. "Come on, let's take a look in the biography section under H."
"Better think again, Peter," said Meg.
WHAT WAS PETER'S MISTAKE?
"We should look in the fiction section, not in biographies," Meg told him. "Sherlock Holmes is a fictitious character, written from the imagination."
"Oh, right," said Peter. "We should look under the author's last name."
"Exactly," said Meg. "And the author is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so we should look in fiction under D, for Doyle. Let's go!"
"You would know that," said Peter.
They raced to the fiction bookshelves.
Meg ran her fingers along the backs of the old books. "Alice sure is a mystery fan. See how she puts little magnifying glass stickers on the spines of all the mystery books?"
"Yeah, and look at all the Sherlock Holmes books!" exclaimed Peter as they began opening the books and searching for clues. "What do these books have to do with the valuable object?"
"I don't know yet," said Meg. She checked her watch. "But we have to find out, and soon."
Ten minutes later, they were both discouraged.
"Nothing," said Peter.
"Me either. Not a scrap of paper. Remember, Alice can be pretty tricky in the clue department. She wouldn't have written a message inside a book, would she?"
"Librarians never write in books," Peter said. Then he reread the clue. "Except ..."
"Except what?" asked Meg.
WHAT IS PETER GETTING AT?
"The clue says, 'Checking dates is good detection,' " said Peter. "You thought Alice meant checking the file for books that are due back at the library, but maybe she means checking the due date at the back of the book. Some libraries are computerized, but it looks like Alice still stamps the due dates by hand. That's the only place where she would dare write in a book."
"Good thinking," said Meg. She examined the date card of each book.
"Look at this Sherlock Holmes book, The Hound of the Baskervilles," Meg pointed out. "Instead of a date stamped, there's a number penciled in."
"It can't mean March 64, 1912," said Peter.
"Definitely not." Meg ripped a corner of paper out of her notebook and jotted down the number.
WHAT COULD THE NUMBER MEAN?
"This looks like a number from the Dewey decimal system," said Meg. "Libraries use it to classify non-fiction books into different subjects."
"Come on. The 300s are over there." Peter jumped up.
It didn't take Peter and Meg long to find the book numbered 364.12. It was titled Detective Skills, and inside was a small folded piece of paper. Meg opened it and read:
"Deerstalker? Isn't that the kind of hat Sherlock Holmes wears?" asked Peter.
"Only in the movies, not in the books," Meg said. "Alice might mean for us to use our thinking caps." She flipped open her notebook to decode the message.
Suddenly there was a noise at the door.
"Ssshhhhh! What's that?" said Peter.
The lock in the front door clicked, and a young woman stepped in. "Hello? What's going on?" she asked Peter and Meg. "The library isn't open yet."
"It's okay, Caroline." Gerry poked his head out from behind a nearby bookshelf. "These are Alice's cousins. She gave them a key."
"Our grandfather is in the reading room," Meg explained.
"Probably snoring," Peter added.
Caroline looked confused. "Alice mentioned you were coming to visit, but I forgot. Well, it's nice to meet you," she said. "What are you up to today, Gerry?"
"Just the usual cleaning up. Did you see the box of old books your uncle donated to the library yesterday?"
"Oh, I've hardly had a chance. I wonder if Alice started cataloging them." She turned lightly on her heels and walked straight to the office.
"Yoo-hoo! Ms. Mackintosh?" A voice from behind made them jump.
"You shouldn't sneak up on people like that!" Peter protested.
"So sorry," the bearded man apologized. "I didn't want to interrupt. This is a public library, isn't it?"
"Yes, but it's not open yet." Caroline had stepped out of the office. "I'm Caroline Stone, librarian's assistant. I must have forgotten to relock the door."
"I'll lock it," Gerry volunteered.
"I'm Horace Plotnik," the man said. He fumbled for a minute, then pulled a crumpled business card out of his pocket. "I'm an authority on antiques. Ms. Alice Mackintosh called me to appraise a valuable object."
"Oh, I see," said Caroline.
"Well, she's not in yet," said Gerry. "She's at the dentist."
"Then if you don't mind, I'll wait." Mr. Plotnik glanced at the old clock. "I am a bit early, but I must say I'm curious to see what she's got." As he headed to the reading room, he peered at Meg's notes. "I love word puzzles! May I help?"
"No, thanks," said Meg. She covered her notes.
"Did you hear that?" Peter whispered to Meg. "Whatever it is we're looking for must be worth a lot!"
"And we'd better hurry up and find it before anyone else drops by," Meg muttered.
When Gerry stepped up to check out his own books, Meg quietly covered her notes again. "You're a mystery fan, too!" she said, noticing the titles.
"Love them," said Gerry. "Alice always tells me when a new one comes in."
"Have you worked here long?" Peter asked him.
"A few months. I'm saving up for some powerful binoculars."
"For spying?" Meg guessed.
"Nah ... for baseball games." Gerry laughed.
Caroline turned to Meg and Peter. "What are you two working on?"
"Looks like they're trying to solve some kind of secret code." Gerry peered over Meg's shoulder. "I think it's something to do with Sherlock Holmes. Just kid stuff."
"This isn't kid stuff!" protested Peter.
"Sherlock Holmes? He's one of my favorite detectives." Caroline smiled. "Don't let me interrupt your fun, but if I were you, I'd look down in the book repair room. There's a very good book about codes down there being rebinded."
Meg closed her notebook, slid off her seat, and headed for the stairs. "I've almost cracked the code, but let's check it out anyway," she whispered to Peter.
"I bet Gerry follows — he's been spying on us," Peter whispered back.
"Gerald, don't forget to take out the recycling bin," Caroline reminded him. "The truck will be here soon."
"Whoops!" Gerry smacked his forehead. "I'll get it — right after I show them the way downstairs." He dashed after Meg and Peter.
From the stairs to the cellar, Meg heard a pounding on the book repair room door. It was bolted from the outside. "Hey!" she cried. "What's that noise?"
"Hurry up!" Peter called out to Gerry.
"Don't worry — I have a key!" Gerry hurried down the stairs.
Gramps and Mr. Plotnik had heard the commotion and came following behind them.
Gerry fumbled for the right key on his key ring, then finally sprung the door open.
It was Alice!
"Alice!!! Are you all right?" they all exclaimed.
"Thank goodness!" cried Alice. "I got locked in here hours ago! Who's been blaring the radio with the baseball game? George, it had to be you. What are you doing with a radio on in the library?" She caught her breath. "Oh, my aching tooth!"
"Sorry, Alice," said Gramps. "Are you all right? What happened?"
"Oh, I'm all right, except for this toothache. I was on my way to the dentist, but I came here first because I'd forgotten the book I was repairing for Dr. Hugo. A breeze must have blown the door shut, and then the lock jammed." Alice held her jaw. "I've been banging on the door, but you couldn't hear me because of that noisy radio!"
Meanwhile, Peter examined the lock. "But Alice, this lock couldn't possibly catch all by itself. Someone must have shut you in there on purpose!"
"That's ridiculous! You've been reading too many mysteries," said Alice. "Now let's talk upstairs."
Meg whispered to Peter, "Do you really think someone locked her in?"
"Looks that way to me," said Peter. "I smell a rat."
Just then, Alice noticed Mr. Plotnik behind Gramps. "Oh, hello," she said. "You're a bit early for our appointment. I'll be with you in a few minutes."
"No hurry, ma'am." Mr. Plotnik looked up from his antique guidebook. "I've got plenty of time."
As Alice herded Meg and Peter toward the stairs, she asked, "Did you find it?"
"Not yet, Alice. We've almost got it," Meg answered, and then she practically flew up the stairs. Quickly fetching her notebook from the checkout desk, Meg finished decoding the message and joined Peter and Alice in the reading room.
HAVE YOU CRACKED THE CODE YET?
Directly over the chair where Gramps had been sitting all morning was a sign: QUIET, PLEASE. Meg reached up behind it, and sure enough, there was another clue. It was wadded up in a ball.
Gerry snuck up behind her. "Did you find something?" he asked. "Where was the clue?"
"Behind the 'Quiet, Please,'" Meg said.
"Behind the what?" Gerry asked.
"'Quiet, Please!'" repeated Peter.
"Don't tell me to be quiet," shouted Gerry.
"I didn't!" Peter hollered back.
"What's going on?" Mr. Plotnik hustled into the reading room, followed by Gramps.
"Sshhh! Quiet, please, everybody!" Caroline had come away from the computer desk. "Alice, are you all right? Gerry just told me what happened!"
"I'm okay, Caroline." Alice clicked off Gramps's radio. "Go ahead and read the clue, Meg. Then I'll explain everything."
Meg smoothed out the wadded piece of paper and read:
"Hmmm. 'Watson's friend.' I think I know what we're looking for," said Meg. "And I think I know where it is, too."
WHAT ARE THEY LOOKING FOR? WHERE DO YOU THINK IT IS?
"Dr. John Watson was friend and assistant detective to none other than Sherlock Holmes," declared Meg." 'First edition?' It must be a book!"
"A book!" Peter looked shocked.
"Many old books are very valuable," said Mr. Plotnik.
"Is it a very rare book?" Peter said, apparently reconsidering. "A very rare Sherlock Holmes book?"
"You're absolutely right!" Alice grinned. "You've been looking for a first edition of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, first published in 1892 by George Newnes, Limited, London."
"That would be worth a fortune!" said Mr. Plotnik.
Gramps looked puzzled. "But Alice, why did you hide it? Why didn't you bring it home if you were so worried?"
"It's library policy not to remove valuable objects," Alice explained. "The collection of old books just came yesterday. I was worried that something might happen to the Sherlock Holmes book before I could get it appraised and get a proper bookcase to lock it in, so I hid it for safekeeping. Then I planted the clues so you would find it and keep it safe until I returned from the dentist. I was afraid I might be there for hours, and then who knows what could have happened to it!"
"And you were also testing our library skills," added Peter.
"Oh, I am a bit of a schemer," Alice admitted. "Now reread the clue, and you'll find the book."
Peter glanced at the note. "Periodically is underlined. It might have to do with periodicals."
"Right — that's library talk for magazines," said Meg.
Meg and Peter looked through the shelf of magazines beside the "Quiet, Please" sign, but they came up empty-handed.
"Well, Alice, here's a mystery for you," said Peter. "I detect your Sherlock is missing!"
"What?" Alice cried. She jumped up and shuffled through the magazines.
WHAT DO YOU THINK HAPPENED?
"Oh, no! Someone did steal the book!" cried Alice. "I'm sure it was here this morning when I came in. Peter, maybe you were right — maybe someone did lock me in!" While everyone else continued to search the shelves for the missing book, Meg motioned Peter over to the checkout desk. "Alice couldn't be mistaken about where she hid the book — she was so exact about it. It must have been stolen!"
"We've got to find it," added Peter. "We're the ones who were supposed to find it and keep it safe."
"Let's see those instant photos you took this morning," suggested Meg. "Maybe we can learn something from them."
Peter fished the photos out of his pocket. But when he tried to clear a space on the checkout desk to view them, he accidentally knocked over Gerry's pile of books, sending pencils, mail, and everything else flying.
"Careful for Louisa May Alcott!" Meg nimbly caught the statue. As she helped straighten things, she noticed something strange. "Hmm," she said. "This is weird."
"This mystery sure is weird," Peter replied. "I bet someone broke into the library early this morning." "But Alice saw the book when she came in, remember?" Meg shook her head. "Anyway, how would the thief know where the book was hidden?"
Excerpted from Meg Mackintosh and the Mystery in the Locked Library by Lucinda Landon. Copyright © 1993 Lucinda Landon. Excerpted by permission of Secret Passage Press.
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