Readers of so-called “cozy mysteries” know you can run into problems when the same small town experiences too many odd deaths. After a while even Miss Marple probably stopped getting party invites (“Let’s not invite Miss Marple this weekend. There’s always some ghastly murder when she’s around.” “Quite.”) But there’s no problem yet with Sheila Turnage’s Tupelo Landing series (for kids, grades 4-6).
In Three Times Lucky, a murder comes to tiny Tupelo Landing, N.C., and prompts our protagonist Moses LoBeau (aka Mo) to set up the Desperado Detective Agency with her best friend Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. The crime hits very close to home for our young detectives, but not so close that one of the main characters is the villain. In The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, the newest book, the murder took places years ago, so our town of quirky characters is somewhat safe, though not without their secrets.
Turnage’s characters do border on caricature. There’s the bombastic mayor, the gossipy Azelea Women (always taken as a group), and other small-town stereotypes, but, happily, the main characters have enough charm to avoid being typecast. Mo is an orphan who was found as a baby during a hurricane on a raft (hence her name), but she has a home and family with the Colonel and Miss Lana. In the first book, her quest for her “upstream” mother was more a part of the story. In this novel, she writes journal entries to that mom, but seems more settled with her “family of choice” (as she calls them). Truth be told, Mo can get on your nerves. She’s a pushy young lady and I was a bit surprised the Colonel and Miss Lana let her get away with calling someone “rat face.” But she’s getting better. The best development in this second novel involves Dale. In the first book, his abusive father Macon may be helping the bad guys. In Ghosts, Macon is behind bars and Dale is coming to terms with that. He has a great scene near the end of the book that shows his maturation and it’s lovely.
I highly recommend these books to preteens. As with many mysteries, you don’t read them to figure out whodunit, but rather to experience some great storytelling.