The Puzzling Paintings

Andrews McMeel. (Undersea Mystery Club: Bk. 3). Oct. 2020. 96p. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781524861414; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781524860912.
Gr 2-4–In the third installment of the “Undersea Mystery Club” series, mermaid and budding investigator Violet has a new mystery to solve when graffiti is found on her elementary school and several other buildings around town. After a few red herrings involving “the biggest troublemaker in school,” it turns out that the artist responsible is a new student—an octopus with a love of painting. While the mystery itself is straightforward and not terribly suspenseful, the story does explore core elements of the mystery genre, such as clues and motive. However, the choice of graffiti as a crime to investigate is an odd one, and despite back matter that attempts to provide more information about artists, graffiti, and murals, the narrative lacks the proper nuance to really explore this topic. Further, the police feature prominently, and their role is troubling; one spot illustration depicts an innocent classmate of Violet’s being taken to the police station by a pair of dolphin officers, a detail strikingly at odds with platitudes in the text about celebrating diversity and “welcoming sea creatures from all places and backgrounds.” Characters—a blend of merfolk and anthropomorphized sea creatures—are depicted with wide eyes, pointy elfin ears, and a rainbow of skin colors, including shades of brown, green, purple, pink, and orange.
VERDICT An early reader mystery marred by its simplistic approach to law enforcement. Skip this one.

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