I began reading mystery novels in the second grade, not long after my grandmother bought me my first Nancy Drew books. Much as I enjoyed The Secret of the Old Clock and The Bungalow Mystery, however, I was less keen on the character of Nancy herself. I envied Nancy’s smart roadster and the physical freedom it granted her, and her knack for discovering hidden passageways, but I didn’t like her very much; frankly, I thought she was a pill, a faultlessly polite goody-goody who behaved like an adult’s idea of a smart, curious teenager. My eight-year-old self wanted a mystery featuring a lead character who was more like me — the kind of girl who wore rainbow-stripe sweaters, had a vivid imagination fueled by regular trips to the library, and felt certain that her dog could read minds.
In short, eight-year-old me would have been the perfect candidate for Mary Labatt and Jo Rioux’s charming, low-key Sam & Friends series.
A Sam & Friends Mystery, Book Three: Mummy Mayhem
Story by Mary Labatt, Art by Jo Rioux
2010, Kids Can Press, ISBN: 978-1554534708
$16.95, 96 pages
The series revolves around a trio of likable characters: Sam, a sheepdog who loves solving mysteries; Jennie, Sam’s ten-year-old neighbor; and Beth, Jennie’s best human friend. Like many ten-year-olds, Jennie and Beth are highly suggestible, prone to interpreting odd phenomena in the most sinister light possible. In their latest adventure, Jennie and Beth become convinced that Sam is being stalked by the ghost of Menopharsib, an Egyptian pharaoh whose sarcophagus just so happens to be on display at the local museum. The three devise a plan for returning Menopharsib’s spirit back to the underworld — one that involves chanting, cooking up a potion on the stove, and sneaking past a museum guard to face the mummy himself.
Though the pacing is brisk, and the plot filled with unexpected twists, what really makes Mummy Mayhem work is the cast. Elementary school girls will recognize themselves in Jennie and Beth, both of whom are studious but eager for adventure, while animal lovers will embrace the idea that Sam talks to Jennie and Beth as peers. The three principle characters have a warm rapport that draws readers into the story; many of Mummy Mayhem‘s best scenes take place in Jennie’s room, as the three pore over books and debate the likelihood that Menopharsib returned from the grave.
Jo Rioux’s artwork is another plus: it’s attractive and easy to follow, making the Sam & Friends series accessible to kids who aren’t regular comic book readers. The character designs are rounded and pleasing, but not too cute; Jennie and Beth look like normal elementary school girls and not teenagers-in-training.
Mummy Mayhem is more suspenseful than scary, steadily building towards a dramatic confrontation between Sam and the mummy in the book’s final pages. For die-hard mystery buffs, the big reveal may be a little disappointing, as there are few clues that would allow the reader to guess who the mummy really is. Some mystery lovers may also find there are too many scenes of Jennie and Beth reading out loud from a textbook on ancient Egypt; these passages feel a little overdetermined, but provide enough juicy information on mummies, pyramids, and hieroglyphics to hold the reader’s interest.
On the whole, however, Mummy Mayhem is a great choice for elementary school students who enjoy mysteries with supernatural trappings. Seven- and eight-year-olds girls are the best audience for the Sam & Friends series; some nine- and ten-year-olds may find the books a little too young for their taste.
Review copy provided by the publisher.