Today, young readers have a much bigger selection of mystery novels to read. In several of them the main character becomes a secret agent of some kind. Today's title is just such a book. In it a tween girl, Ruby Redfort, is asked to help a secret agency to solve a problem. The writing is clever, often humorous, and it is full of thrilling moments and interesting situations.
For ages 10 to 13
Candlewick Press, 2011, 978-0-7636-5120-6
Ruby Redfort looks like a rather ordinary tween girl, but she is not in the slightest bit ordinary. She is extremely intelligent, can learn new things very quickly, and she has superlative observation skills and problem-solving skills. Ruby loves mystery and crime stories, movies, and television shows. She also loves to figure out puzzles, ciphers, and codes.
Until now, other than winning a Code-Cracking Championship and creating a code that took Harvard scholars two weeks to break, Ruby has had a quiet life. She lives with her rather uninteresting parents, spends time with her friend Clancy, and goes to school. Then, one day, she comes home from school to find out that someone has stolen everything in her house. Everything is gone including Mrs. Digby the housekeeper. On that day Hitch, a household manager (butler), arrives to work at the Redfort home, and Ruby is immediately suspicious. Something about Hitch is off, but Ruby cannot figure out what.
Then Ruby gets a very odd phone call. An unknown person tells Ruby that he or she has heard that Ruby is good at noticing things and that she is also a good code cracker. The person talks some more and Ruby agrees that she “can crack a code.” After saying “Good,” the person hangs up. Ruby is very puzzled by the call. If the person on the phone wants her to crack a code why didn’t the person give her a code to crack?
Some time later Ruby figures things out. The code was in the conversation itself. She analyses what the person said and soon she is following clues, each clue leading her to another one. The final clue leads her to a manhole cover. She opens it and reluctantly goes down the drain and into a tunnel, which then opens into a very large room. It is in this room that Ruby meets a woman called LB who just happens to belong to the voice on the telephone.
LB explains that she works for a secret agency called Spectrum, and she invites Ruby the join the agency to help them deal with one problem and one problem only. If she is willing to take on the challenge, Ruby will first have to pass a test and get cleared by security. If she gets through these, she will be told about the problem, which she will hopefully be able to solve. After the task is complete, Ruby will go back to being an ordinary schoolgirl and her association with Spectrum will be over.
Not surprisingly, Ruby agrees to the terms. She passes the test and security check without any trouble, and then she finds out that she has been recruited to break a code. Someone is apparently planning to steal an enormous amount of gold from a local bank. A former Spectrum code breaker figured out something important about the plan, but she died before she could tell LB about what she had found. LB wants Ruby to go through the deceased code breaker’s papers to figure out what it was she was going to reveal.
Lauren Child has delighted countless children by creating Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean, wonderful characters who appear in picture books, novels, and in television programs. Now she gives us Ruby Redfort, and readers will have a splendid time sharing Ruby’s adventures and trying to figure out the codes and puzzles Ruby encounters. Who can resist a story that is packed with colorful characters, unsolved mysteries, cool gadgets, and challenging puzzles.