The Black Crow Conspiracy

265p. Albert Whitman. Mar. 2015. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780807507803.
Gr 5–7—Penelope Treadwell, 15, is the managing editor and chief writer for Penny Dreadful magazine, featuring the adventures of detective Montgomery Flinch. She employs an out-of-work actor to portray the great sleuth in public. (Who would believe that a proper young lady could write such blood-and-thunder tales, after all?) In this third installment of the series, Penelope suffers a bad case of writer's block and the journal has fallen on hard times. In desperation, she announces a contest for readers to suggest ideas for the Master of the Macabre's next case. Notes pour in, but only one sparks Penelope's interest: "I am a living man, but these experiments are turning me into a ghost," the message reads. "I have even walked through the walls of the Tower to steal for them the king's crown…." The only signature is a small sketch of a black bird. Inspired by the letter, the young writer concocts a rousing saga about a fiendish hooded villain, the Black Crow, who slips past the guards to make off with the royal jewels of England. The new issue of Penny Dreadful is a runaway bestseller. Then Penelope receives a visit from Inspector Drake of Scotland Yard—with a warrant for Flinch's arrest. It seems there actually has been a robbery at the Tower of London—and the crown jewels are missing. With her actor/alter ego under arrest for treason, her magazine shut down, and her livelihood threatened, Penelope investigates and uncovers a deadly conspiracy that threatens London, the royal family, and the British monarchy itself. This exciting blend of mystery and alternate history is set against the backdrop of the delayed 1901 coronation of King Edward VII—and suggests a very different reason for the postponement than the illness that history records. Real historical figures, from X-ray discoverer Wilhelm Röntgen to Arthur Conan Doyle to Kaiser Wilhelm II, are integrated seamlessly. There is even a dash of steampunk, as the villains prepare to unleash a diabolical Atomic Army of living X-ray soldiers on the countries of Europe.
VERDICT An exciting choice for mystery fans who appreciate a touch of the fantastic.

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