Book One of the Mister Max trilogy
By Cynthia Voigt
Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Maximilian Sterling is the son of two actors, which comes in handy when his parents disappear. He dons a variety of disguises to keep strangers out of his house and earn enough money to survive. After some unsuccessful ventures, he begins to gain a reputation as a detective, although Max doesn't feel like a detective.
I liked the way the various mysteries withing MISTER MAX wove together. Several of the solutions will be obvious to an older reader, but I would've loved seeing everything fall together as a child. I'm not too big on how the question of the whereabouts of Max's parents. There's a nice hook at the end for the next book, but it seemed odd that Max would pay so much attention to other things instead of searching for his parents.
I do like to say that detective series rely on character, and there's enough here to sustain a trilogy. Max has some wisdom beyond his years, which is good since he's called upon to act as an adult. Fellow twelve-year-old Pia is a good match for Max, asking all the right questions and refusing to sit on the sidelines. I also liked Max's grandmother, a librarian, who struggles to keep order and guide her grandson who thinks he's a grownup. She's not always right, but she's in a tough position.
The setting is nice. Max has an interest in painting skyscapes, which frequently takes the action outside. I liked the sense of the city and it's various districts and class divisions, but I had trouble narrowing down the time period. Sometime in the past, but post industrial, I think. I would've liked a year or something.
Young mystery lovers will find much to like about MISTER MAX. There's an engaging story, gorgeous illustrations, and a nice balance of male and female characters. Despite Cynthia Voigt's bona fides, I don't think this is one that has much appeal for older readers. That, however, does not mean it's not a perfectly pleasant read.