Summertime is synonymous with reading for me.
My grandmother kept a light blue blanket by the back door so I could spread it out under the elm tree and dissolve into stories. Sometimes a lemonade, sometimes a piece of watermelon … but always a book. Sometimes a friend would sit next to me absorbed in a story of their own but most often it was just me, the birds, the sounds of summer, and a hardcover book.
I was reminded of that blanket under the tree this weekend when we were in Somerset, Wisconsin. We had to be somewhere at 11 am but we were early. We had brought books with us — of course — and we sat under a tree reading.
For me, it was Eddie Red Undercover: Mystery on Museum Mile. Reading mysteries is a passion and a comfort for me. This book by Marcia Wells, with integral illustrations by Marcos Calo, swept me in and connected me to the girl who read during her summers, as many books as they’d let her check out of the library.
Eddie Red lives in New York City with a dad who’s been downsized from the library and a mother who’s a real estate agent. Although he’s been attending Senate Academy, a school for gifted students, his family’s financial duress puts him in a state of anxiety over not being able to afford tuition next year. He likes his school but he realizes he won’t see his best friend, Jonah, anymore. Jonah is brilliant but he’s challenged by hyperactivity and a number of medical conditions … all of which make him a perfect sidekick.
You see, Edmund Lonnrot, our hero, is a 12-year-old with a photographic memory and a startling ability to draw detailed, lifelike portraits of people he has seen recently. When Edmund and his dad are drawn into a dangerous situation in an alley, Edmund is later able to draw the criminals for the police. It turns out these particular bad guys are part of the Picasso Gang, internationally-wanted art thieves. The police hire Edmund as a police sketch artist, code name Eddie Red, to observe the comings and goings of people on Museum Mile in NYC, any of whom could be a disguised art thief.
Plausibility? Well, let’s just say that the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief” is apropos. I was willing to overlook the NYPD hiring a twelve-year-old for a stakeout as farfetched and get completely involved in Edmund’s and Jonah’s story, a chess game of a plot, and Edmund’s likeable sense of humor. The author does a good job of making Eddie’s talents feel universally adoptable — if only we had a Jonah to give us that extra oomph in the mystery-solving arena.
Calo’s portraits are a part of the plot, essential to the story. They’re as full of character as the author’s story. At the end of the book Eddie Red offers advice on how to draw a portrait. That’s perfection because I found myself itching to pick up a pencil and draw the people around me while I was solving the mystery alongside Edmund.
It’s an engaging story, perfect for reading any time, but especially satisfying on a summer afternoon.