Published in the UK as THE CASE OF THE GOOD-LOOKING CORPSE
Book Two in the P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries
By Caroline Lawrence
Available now from G.P. Putnam's Sons (Penguin)
The random books Penguin sends me makes me happy. None of the other publishers tend to send me off the wall stuff. But Penguin does and I've found some real gems that way. Let's be honest, a middle grade western mystery? Pfft.
But P.K. PINKERTON AND THE PETRIFIED MAN was terrific. Let's face it, mystery series live and die based on the personalities of their detectives. P.K. is most definitely a personality. He's twelve years old and recently orphaned. He's started a detective agency where he uses his skills with disguise, language, and tracking. However, he has a Thorn - he's bad at reading faces and detecting lies, both important skills for a detective.
P.K. is autistic, but it's described in period terms. An older reader will figure it out, but for a younger reader he'll just be a little different. Caroline Lawrence did an excellent job with the period language. She uses words that are easy to understand and a little fun, never ones that feel overly archaic or pretentious. The haphazard capitalization also feels like how a twelve year old might write.
Honestly, all the period stuff is cool. Lawrence really brings the American West to life without romanticizing it. P.K. is half Lakota and thus not welcome everywhere. The girl who likes him treats him differently after learning his heritage. Entertainers put on shows in blackface. The murder P.K. investigates isn't a priority with the law since the victim was a Soiled Dove. (The references to prostitution are fairly circumspect.) P.K.'s client is a former slave. (The Civil War is raging, although P.K. is mostly oblivious.) At the same time, Lawrence doesn't make it seem like a terrible time and place to live. Just a tough one.
One of the characters is Sam Clemens, before he was Mark Twain. I liked that he was used sparingly. Readers familiar with Mark Twain will have much to chuckle about in his appearances and the joke doesn't wear out its welcome. If any of the other characters were historical figures, I didn't notice them.
P.K. PINKERTON AND THE PETRIFIED MAN is a page-turning, character-driven mystery. I liked how all the clues came together and P.K. came up with a plan to bring the murderer to justice. Lawrence never gets too bogged down in the historical and character detail to remember she's telling a mystery - a clever one at that. THE PETRIFIED MAN is a genuine gem.