A delightfully clever mystery. Twelve-year-old puzzle addict Winston Breen notices brainteasers everywhere, even in baseball players' uniforms or the toppings on a pizza: The only thing better than discovering a puzzle is stumping someone else with it, he says.
But Winston is stumped himself by the antique box he gives his younger sister Katie, on her birthday, which includes a set of wooden tiles printed with random letters and words. Both siblings guess the tiles are part of a larger puzzle. When two somewhat sinister strangers with their own wooden strips arrive looking for Winston, the boy realizes that the only way to crack the mystery is to pool their clues.
A group that includes the town librarian, a giant ex-policeman, a young reporter, the two strangers, Winston, and Katie faces dangerous threats, mistrust, decades-old clues, and in-fighting as they set out on what turns out to be a treasure hunt.
This ingenious novel, which conjures up Ellen Raskin's The Westing Game and good old Encyclopedia Brown, peppers a classic treasure-hunt plot with nifty puzzles from familiar crosswords and word scrambles to number games.
As one would expect from a professional puzzle creator, Berlin's puzzles are challenging yet satisfying, but they're also backed by a lot of storytelling flair. The author dexterously sustains the plot's momentum while leaving kids space to work things out on their own, and he shores up over-the-top aspects with nicely delineated characters, sharp dialogue, and an exciting twist. Readers both avid and reluctant will surface from this unusual mystery with their hearts pounding and their brains limbered up for more. Ages 8-12 238 pages 978-0142413883
Recommended by Beverly Wrigglesworth, Librarian, Texas USA