"BONES AND THE DUCHESS" JUVENILE MYSTERY SERIES
To Oz and Back, Allen A. Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 2003.
Holy Smoke, Allen A. Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 2004.
The Duchess to the Rescue, Allen A. Knoll (Santa Barbara, CA), 2006.
Alexandra Eden is the author of the "Bones and the Duchess" mystery series. Written for a reading audience of fifth- to seventh-grade children, the mysteries are nonetheless narrated from a distinctly adult point of view, as expressed through the character of James Allen "Bones" Fatzinger. Bones was a policeman, but he was released from the police force when his superiors felt he was being too easy on the criminals he encountered. His situation leaves him with very little income, and he takes up residence in the Broad Street Hotel. At the hotel, he becomes friendly with Verity Buscador, the twelve-year-old granddaughter of the Broad Street's owner. Bones calls Verity by the nickname "the Duchess."
Verity has Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. People with Asperger's generally have normal speech and cognitive development, and may be highly intelligent, but they have difficulty with social interactions. Unlike patients with some forms of autism, Asperger's patients are not typically withdrawn. They will often approach other people, only to engage in long, one-sided conversations about favorite topics, while taking little heed of the responses of their listeners. They may have unusually intense interests and display repetitive behaviors. Throughout the books, symptoms and behaviors related to Asperger's syndrome are explained in "subtle" ways, according to Rachel Newcombe in a BookPleasures.com review of To Oz and Back. This gives readers "an extra bit of knowledge and, hopefully, understanding of the condition," stated Newcombe.
To Oz and Back concerns the disappearance of two of Verity's classmates, best friends named Wanda and Arvilla. Bones seizes on the mystery as a chance to show that he still has what it takes to deal with crime, despite his dismissal from the force. When Verity offers to help him, he is doubtful that the girl will be of any help in solving the case, but he goes along with her suggestion merely to humor her. He soon finds he has underestimated the value of her assistance. Working together, Bones and Verity find a set of clues, all connected to The Wizard of Oz. It seems these mixed-up messages, written by Wanda and Arvilla before they disappeared, may hold the key to their whereabouts. One of Verity's friends, nicknamed "the Nerd" by Bones, has great computer skills, and helps to decipher the clues left by the vanished children. The police, meanwhile, make no progress with the case. Bones eventually wraps up the proceedings, but he would not have been able to do so without the help of the Duchess and the Nerd. The codes deciphered by the characters are included in the back of the book so readers can use them, too. Reviewing the book for School Library Journal, Farida S. Dowler stated: "Bones's detective patter is humorous and light, and is the most engaging element of a mystery that ends too quickly."
In the next installment of the series, titled Holy Smoke, Bones is hired by a minister to investigate a suspicious fire that destroyed a neighborhood church. The minister insists, however, that Verity must be part of Bones's detective team. Bones is happy to have a substantial case to keep him occupied and employed, and goes along with the enforced partnership even though he still has trouble admitting how much help Verity really gave him in the previous case. This time around, Verity claims to know who is responsible for the crime before his investigation even begins. Bones is not convinced about the correctness of her insights and instincts, however. Joining the pair for this mystery is the adopted son of the church minister. Strange characters and e-mails in code eventually lead to a break in the case. Reviewing Holy Smoke for Booklist, Stephanie Zvirin noted that Bones's voice, as narrator, gave the story a more adult feel than most juvenile mysteries. She stated that there were many false clues to sift through, and praised the "goodhearted, inspirational message" that lies at the heart of the story.
In The Duchess to the Rescue, Verity must rescue Bones after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit. Graffiti, defaming the chief of police, has been appearing all over town. The chief is certain that the culprit is Bones, who has reason to hold a grudge because of the loss of his position on the police force. Bones ends up in jail. Verity's efforts on his behalf include laying an elaborate trap to catch the real guilty party, by organizing an art contest to see whose entries match the style of the graffiti in question. Stephanie Zvirin, reviewing the novel for Booklist, made note of the "surprisingly honest" way the author shows how people wrongly perceive Verity, due to her condition. Zvirin also described the relationship between Bones and Verity as "quite touching."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2003, Stephanie Zvirin, review of To Oz and Back, p. 1528; May 1, 2004, Stephanie Zvirin, review of Holy Smoke, p. 1498; May 1, 2006, Stephanie Zvirin, review of The Duchess to the Rescue, p. 48.
Library Media Connection, October, 2003, Pamela Schembri, review of To Oz and Back, p. 56.
School Library Journal, March, 2003, Farida S. Dowler, review of To Oz and Back, p. 232.
Blether,http://reviews.blether.com/ (March 20, 2008), Rachel Newcombe, review of To Oz and Back.
BookPleasures.com,http://www.bookpleasures.com/ (March 20, 2008), Rachel Newcombe, review of To Oz and Back.