Book Review: Enchantment Lake by Margi Preus
Francine Frye isn’t a detective. She played a detective on TV. On a children’s show. For a few episodes. But that still makes her the closest thing to a detective Francie’s eccentric aunts Astrid and Jeannette know. So when a series of perfectly explainable but statistically improbable deaths strike around their cabin home on Enchantment Lake, they make a (badly worded, static-filled) call to their great-niece which cuts off abruptly.
When Francie can’t get the authorities or even her grandfather to investigate, she decides to head to Walpurgis, the small town in northern Minnesota Enchantment Lake is closest to. She’s relieved to learn Astrid and Jen are alive and well, but now that she’s here, the aunts suggest the young actor snoop around some. Especially as there’s been a new death, the most suspicious yet.
This middle-grade mystery is the first in the “Enchantment Lake” series, which does make certain developments in the story pretty obvious. Francie’s on the lower end of seventeen, which allows her to be fairly mature (she was living in New York City on her own while trying to continue her acting career) but still be viewed as a child by most of the adults around her. This includes her grandfather, who makes use of his control of Francie’s trust fund to order her around.
Francie is perhaps a little too ready to believe there’s a connection between all the seemingly unrelated deaths, as there’s plenty of mystery in her own life. Her father died in a statistically improbable car crash, her brother moved to Europe a couple of years ago and never communicates with Francie, and absolutely no one will tell Francie anything about her mother.
This last one comes up more than the others, as a couple of the suspects seem to know more about Francie’s mother than she does, and a clue pops up suggesting the woman may be alive. This plot hook is left dangling for a future volume, alas.
Not being a detective, Francie (known to the older locals as “French Fry”) makes several rookie mistakes, including being alone with murder suspects without having told anyone where she’s going multiple times. And several people who have information that would be relevant either don’t bring it up or are refusing to tell Francie for their own reasons.
The language is suitable for middle-schoolers, but not so simple that young adult readers would be embarrassed to be seen reading this book. Romance is limited to Francie noticing certain boys are attractive and being mildy jealous of one paying attention to another girl. Suicide is mentioned.
The small town Minnesota setting will be familiar to most Minnesotans and many other people from the upper Midwest. It allows for a quirky cast without going into demeaning “hick” stereotypes. (The most stereotyped person is actually a spoiled city girl who sees no attraction in a lakeside vacation.)
The solution to the mystery is pleasingly complex, and younger readers should be pleased if they figure most of it out in advance.
Recommended for young mystery fans, and older mystery fans with a love of small town Minnesota.
Since the book mentions the sound of loons several times, here’s a video set on Loon Lake, not far from where Enchantment Lake would be: