________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 8 . . . . October 23, 2015


A Pocket Full of Murder.

R. J. Anderson.
New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Distributed in Canada by Simon & Schuster Canada), 2015.
340 pp., hardcover & eBook, $21.99 (hc).
ISBN 978-1-4814-3771-4 (hc), ISBN 978-1-4814-3773-8 (eBook).

Subject Headings:
Murder-Juvenile fiction.
Social classes-Juvenile fiction.
Magic-Juvenile fiction.
Mystery and detective stories.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Rob Bittner.

***½ /4



Anna seized her hand. "This is about murder, Vettie. You're chasing someone who plotted to kill the governor in his own office and make it look as though Papa had done it. If this person is that cruel and that cunning, what makes you think you can catch him without getting hurt?"

Isaveth opened her mouth, then shut it again. Yes, Papa's life was more important than her own safety, and she'd gladly risk anything to help him.

Set in the fictional city of Tarreton, A Pocket Full of Murder follows Isaveth and Quiz, two unlikely friends, as they seek out the person who killed Governor Obrien and framed Isaveth's father for the crime. The city, itself, is divided into the working class and the nobles, and, of course, the wealthy are the ones who can afford the best and most effective magic while common folk can often barely afford light or fire magic to heat and light their own homes. When Isaveth's father is accused of killing one of the most powerful men in the city with common magic, Isaveth, herself, finds it incredibly hard to believe. As she follows the convoluted clues to what she hopes will be a solution that will save her Papa, she starts to question everything she thought she knew about the city and those she believes are trying to help her, but who may, in fact, be leading her in the wrong direction entirely.

      Isaveth is feisty, a strong and fiery young protagonist, and one to whom young readers can look for inspiration. While she is far from perfect, often misjudging people and sometimes forgetting her sisters in the process of trying to solve the mysterious murder, Isaveth does much more than the adults who surround her and who do not wish to revisit the evidence once their minds are made up. Annagail, Isaveth's older sister, supports the family as much as possible, working long hours, sacrificing time and comforts, and also spying on her employers. The younger sisters are funny and petty and bring some comic relief to the rather dark tale.

      Quiz is a well-developed character who will keep readers guessing throughout the entire novel, wondering about his motives and why he's trying so hard to help Isaveth in her search for justice. Isaveth's father, too, is a complex secondary character, not often explicitly involved in the action, but causing concern and confusion at the same time. Why, if he is innocent, is he refusing to speak to the Keepers? Why is he so concerned about the Truth-Telling spell if he really didn't do anything wrong?

      Beyond the murder mystery, Anderson ponders many aspects of life within her novel, including class inequality, politics and power, and even the treatment of different religious traditions. In reference to the latter component, Isaveth and her family are practicing Moshites—very reminiscent of Jewish traditions—and they are looked down upon as traitors to the more dominant Unifying religion in the city. As Moshites are seen as trouble-makers and dissenters, Annagail is even forced to remove her prayer scarf at one point in order to keep her job at the university.

      Anderson's writing is complex and swift-paced. The world that she creates contains just enough magic to keep the mystery even more unsolvable for us non-magical folks, and it also keeps readers grounded in the realities of human existence, especially when it comes to political and religious unrest and inequality between the working class and upper class. Equal parts Agatha Christie and Goblin Secrets, the late-Victorian, magic-infused setting is a perfect location for a murder mystery to play out. Though I do feel that the ending happens extraordinarily quickly and is wrapped up in a rather fancy bow, the actual answers to the mystery do make sense.

      A Pocket Full of Murder contains intrigue, suspense, sensitivity and depth, all of which work together to create a unique adventure story with an entertaining twist that will stick with readers for a good long time.

Highly Recommended.

Rob Bittner is a graduate of the MA in Children's Literature program at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He is currently a PhD candidate in Gender, Sexuality, and Women's Studies at Simon Fraser University.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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