Elementary school students Alex Parakeet and Yasmeen Popp are good friends, in spite of the fact that Alex is a boy and Yasmeen is a girl. They’re also inclined to solve mysteries, and already have one successful solved puzzle under their belts. Now the cat of a schoolmate has gone missing, and there’s a distinct possibility that Halloween the cat may have been kidnapped by a ghost!
I would never have discovered this book (and this series) had I not been looking for books with Halloween in the title. And frankly, that would have been a shame. As a mystery, the book was well-constructed and age-appropriate, with just exactly enough clues that an engaged reader would have been able to solve the two main puzzles only just ahead of our dynamic duo of Yasmeen and Alex. The result makes sense and doesn’t feel as if it came out of nowhere, as can sometimes be the case in more poorly plotted books.
But deft plotting isn’t the only thing the book has going for it; Martha Freeman has managed to create an interesting and diverse cast of characters without feeling the need to use them to drive home lessons about race and religion. Alex, our narrator, is an only-child who lives with his stay-at-home dad and his police officer mother. His parents are wacky as parents must be in kids’ books, but they are also responsible adults who listen to their kid and take him and his concerns seriously. Alex’s best friend, Yasmeen, is black. Her family is a slight contrast to Alex’s, being a bit less permissive and also Christian — but not opressively so, and it’s not really a plot point, it’s just the way things are. Her parents are professionals, her mom being a librarian and her dad a college professor. They live in a racially and culturally diverse area, as Alex mentions in passing that among the parties the adults on his street attend are Christmas, Passover and Chinese New Year. On top of this, we also meet Alex’s frenemy, Sophie Sikora, a spoilt rich girl who also happens to be a genius with electronics.
As mentioned before, the mystery doesn’t disappoint the characters and vice versa. Yasmeen and Alex hear that the cat of their schoolmate, Kyle Richardson, has disappeared, and they decide to rescue the missing Halloween. From Alex’s mother, they find out that Halloween isn’t the only cat to have disappeared lately. It all seems to tally with an old ghost story in town about a man who was murdered by his cat, and whose spirit now revenges itself upon any cat that crosses its path. Yasmeen doesn’t believe in ghosts, though Alex is not so sure, and they’re determined to find out one way or another if it’s a ghost or a human catnapper.
This mystery is the second one for Alex and Yasmeen, who previously appeared in the book Who is Stealing the 12 Days of Christmas? Unusual for me, I didn’t read that first book before reading this one, so I can evaluate this book not as part of a series, but as a stand alone. And as a stand alone it works very well. Freeman makes occasional reference to events of the first book, but never presumes the reader is familiar with it or the characters. But neither does she go overboard with introductions and descriptions that would likely bore someone who already knew the setting and characters.
I find it rather ironic that the best Halloween book of the lot is the one that isn’t actually about Halloween (though it involves a ghost and the kids do go trick-or-treating toward the end of the story). The characters are both diverse and believable, while the mystery is very well plotted — the clues are there, but not thrown in the reader’s face, and everything comes together in a satisfying fashion. I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of the books in this series for another visit with Alex and Yasmeen.