Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits
Review: 11-year-old Henry Shipley boards the Lake Erie Shoreliner in Manhattan with his mother and younger sister, bound for his home town of Ashtabula, Ohio, where they are to meet his father, a Great Lakes ship captain, when he meets 10-year-old Ellie Strasbourg, daughter of a wealthy industrialist. She tells him of criminals on board the train, but when he leaves for a minute to retrieve a sketch pad he left in another compartment, he returns to find her missing, in Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits, a stand-alone adventure — though possibly the first in a series — for middle-grade readers by Michael D. Beil.
By the time Henry convinces Clarence the conductor and another passenger, an ex-cop, that she's really gone, they train has already stopped in Albany and headed westward. When the contents of a salesman's trunk are found in the luggage compartment, but no trunk, the fear is that someone kidnapped Ellie and took her off the train in Albany. Yet Clarence doesn't recall anyone removing a trunk from the train when it was stopped, leading to the inescapable conclusion that Ellie must still be on board. But where? And why would someone want to kidnap her?
The imaginative twist in this tale is that Clarence has a male calico cat named Lantern Sam, who has the ability to communicate with some humans, including young Henry. Henry and Sam begin a methodical search of the empty staterooms, but when they find Ellie tied up and gagged, Henry gets captured as well, though Sam manages to escape. How they determine the identity of the kidnappers, and the motive for taking Ellie, is just part of the exciting experience they share aboard the Lake Erie Shoreliner and beyond.
Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits is a superb blend of mystery and adventure. The book is divided into alternating chapters, one from the perspective of Henry, the other from Sam. Henry relates the details of what happened in 1938 — in the present, Henry is a great-grandfather in 2012 — while Sam tells his story of how he came to be the resident cat aboard the Lake Erie Shoreliner. The mystery plot is well-structured and includes clues that both Henry and Sam pick up on, sometimes together, sometimes independently, that lead them, actually Henry since Sam cannot speak, to identify the culprits to the authorities. And while the concept of a cat communicating with a boy may seem a little far-fetched, it's handled credibly with liberal doses of good humor. The story ends setting up a sequel, though it would seem that the structure of such would need to be different given Sam's backstory is already known. In short, this entertaining book will be greatly enjoyed by its intended audience of middle-grade readers, indeed by sleuths of all ages.
Acknowledgment: Random House provided a copy of Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits for this review.
Review Copyright © 2014 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Selected reviews of other mysteries by this author …
The Secret Cellar
Knopf (Hardcover), October 2012
ISBN-13: 9780375867415; ISBN-10: 0375867414
Location(s) referenced in Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits: New York State, Ohio
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Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil — A Lantern Sam Mystery
Publication Date: April 2014
List Price: $15.99
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Page Author: Lance Wright
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