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Bert Mintenko and the Serious Business

Quarter Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.50 out of 10


Plot: Smith's charming, sprightly teen mystery novel pits a team of engaging young sleuths against five cases, each plotted with clever precision. Smith plays fair – readers will get all the clues necessary to crack the cases themselves, but the solutions will most likely come as welcome surprises. Unlike some of the older book series that this novel resembles, a strong narrative throughline connects the disparate mysteries, and Smith hooks readers early with the promise that the individual cases are building to something bigger. Here are fun and varied mysteries, marvelous characters, a handful of satisfying "Eureka!" moments, and a welcome thematic maturity, especially as the detectives wonder whether their work actually helps people or just makes matters worse.

Prose/Style: For the most part, Smith's prose is as pared down as it is inviting. The dialogue is sharp and funny, with a finely tuned sense of what kids find humorous, and the characters and important details get sketched with such quick clarity that readers likely will not catch the sleight of hand of the author's careful clue planting. Occasionally, the characters chatter on longer than might be necessary, and some passages have some flat or extra words.

Originality: Teen detectives have long been a mainstay of publishing for young people. Smith shrewdly updates and adapts the formula, adding vital continuity and interiority, while still honoring everything fun and exciting about the genre. The mysteries themselves are exceptional. When the lead sleuth, Bert Mintenko, gets to announce (more than once!) that, actually, the crook is right here in the room, Smith's pushing a tradition forward.

Character Development: From the first real description of him, Bert Mintenko is a vivid and appealing invention. Smith forces Bert and his crew into an array of memorable, character-revealing situations, such as performing in a school play (Bert works a case while dressed as Tiny Tim), playing school kickball, or working together to save a bear. Smith has achieved the most difficult task facing any author of a possible series of books: he's created characters readers will want to hang out with.

Blurb: Clever, twisty, and utterly delightful, this novel of small-town junior high detectives finds its memorable heroes cracking case after case – and facing the consequences. 

Date Submitted: August 26, 2020