The Buccaneers of St. Frederick Island
By Linda Maria Frank / Illustrations by Marianne Savage
Annie Tillery Mysteries, LLC
After a long career teaching science, Linda Maria Frank decided to combine her love of mystery with her knowledge of forensics in books for young readers. In “The Buccaneers of St. Frederick Island” (affectionately dubbed “Fred” by islanders), she gives World War II background information – party-line phones, the Palmer method, and Rosie the Riveter – to set the story in its time and place. Who knew that “German U-boats had been regularly sighted off the coast of Long Island”?
A group of parochial school amateur sleuths, the Buccaneers are a “secret society dedicated to solving the mysteries and misdeeds of our little parish school and the island where it’s located.”
Frank sets up the Catholic school experience with grim-faced Sister JoAnn, who might be “girding herself for the next Crusade.” She patrols the classroom aisles while the Buccaneers communicate through body language, gestures, and facial expressions, their coding hopefully undetected. Mix that with “the smell of chalk and old tempera paints [that] barely covered the tinge of pine-scented urine coming from the old radiators (years past, students who had “accidents … leaned their wet behinds against the radiators to let their underwear dry”), and you’ve got St. BeSillius, locus of the crime.
The whodunit here is where’s the cash the community conscious youngsters raised? Earmarked to buy toys for the preschoolers in the local day care centers, it was stolen from the church’s vestry.
The author keeps the clues coming with the Buccaneers’ burned-down clubhouse (an old fishing shack on the beach), and a threatening letter. Coincidence, or connection to the theft, worries Lily, leader of this tight-knit group of island youngsters.
Tracking the missing money becomes an adult affair when a student goes missing. And when club member Amelia notices strangers hanging out at the dock – click, click, the intrepid Buccaneer has a camera. Evidence! – things really steam up. Have they gotten a little too hot for the youngsters to handle on their own? A resounding yes from the grownups on hand, including the church’s clergy. They throw in with the Buccaneers and their combined efforts lead to a surprising reveal of just who pilfered the funds and why.
Central to the story is school nurse Tabitha Blue Smoke whose daughter has disappeared. Tabitha offers Native American remedies in the island paper: herbs and salves and special teas for common ailments like digestions and headaches.
To her historical credit and enrichment of the story, the author includes Native American lore and culture, the tribal council, and the backstory of the island’s original settlers in an easy to read and informative style.
A significant part of the book is dedicated to the importance of family and lives shared, the idea of community, of folks of different age groups and ethnic connections working together with respect and admiration for a common good. In this case, cracking the case of where the money went that was meant for the little preschoolers – an important message for youngsters. Our lives are not entirely our own. We need to consider others if we want others to consider us. We will all be richer for it.
Words like the Beaufort scale (used as part of their code), sacristy, and stygian might urge young readers not familiar with science or the Catholic church to make for the dictionary and increase their vocabularies.
Lily’s asides about her own thoughts, at times flip, at times sarcastic, took this reviewer off the track and away from the action. “Sorry off the topic again,” she apologizes at one point, but the plot’s momentum would have been better served if her quips had been left out.
Her cats, Boots and Fish, have a come-and-go presence in the story but I expected more than their just being there. Given her affection for felines (Frank also gave them a role in “The Mystery of the Lost Avenger,” reviewed here in 2016), perhaps she can showcase their antics in her next tome and give them a mystery to solve. That would be the cat’s meow!
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