If you have a young reader (say, 9 or 10) kicking around who loved the Encyclopedia Brown stories, and who also is intrigued by magic (of the stage kind, not the fantasy kind) give that reader Hocus Pocus Hotel, by Michael Dahl (Stone Arch Books, Aug. 2012, middle grade, 216 pages). You can, of course, give it to other readers as well. I certainly don't fit that description, but still I read the two mystery stories that comprise this book so quickly and happily that I finished it a long time before my bus got home...
It all starts when young Charlie Hitchcock, a brainiac geek type gifted with a photographic memory, gets a note from the school tough guy, Tyler Yu, saying to meet him after school. Charlie is convinced the end is nigh, but actually Ty just wants Charlie's help. Ty's mother is the manager of an old hotel, the Abracadabra (which also serves as a retirement community for former magicians), and Ty, who works for her, is afraid he's going to take the fall for the mysterious happenings around the hotel...because one of the magicians has disappeared (before paying his rent)!
So Charlie and Ty set out to crack the case of the missing magician. No sooner is that case solve, however, when more trouble strikes. Why, wonder the two boys, would anyone want to steal shower curtains??? But the other things begin to vanish...and Charlie and Ty are off in pursuit of the culprit.
There are secrets galore in the Abracadabra Hotel--and Dahl has lots of fun incorporating magic tricks into his story, complete with explanatory diagrams (great for the geekish child, or curious adult). I liked the premise of a hotel full of elderly magicians lots--much more fun than Encyclopedia Brown's crime- ridden, but boring, town. The reader might guess that there's magic behind the mysteries...but still there's room for plain old logic and deductive reasoning.
The characters--two very different boys who become friends and colleagues--are also appealing. Although Dahl makes no effort to underline the point in a Lessony way, it's in large part the story of two very different types of kid, who hadn't said a word to each other at school, seeing beyond stereotypes. I must say that Ty is much more interesting (why is he a bully at school, but hardworking and thoughtful when he's at home?); Charlie doesn't get much deeper as the story progresses. In any event, I'll be curious to see how their friendship develops in the next book of the series!
(and speaking of stereotypes, it was somewhat refreshing that the Asian kid wasn't the smart, geeky member of the team!)
In short: Great for the mystery loving 4th grader (or thereabouts. The confidently reading 3rd grader, or the less confidently reading older kid might well enjoy it too). Fun for those who aren't kids as well, but it's not one I'd actively recommend to adult readers of 4th grade books (which isn't a criticism--some books just happen to work better for their target audience than they do for grown ups!)
And yay! I actually have a post to send off to Marvellous Middle Grade Monday!