Poison Most Vial
Review: Middle school student Ruby Rose comes to the aid of her father, a janitor at a local university, who is accused of killing a world renown scientist, in Poison Most Vial, a stand-alone mystery for young readers by Benedict Carey.
Dr. V. S. "Rama" Ramachandran was found dead around 8 AM, just after James Rose had started his shift. Though Rose had no formal relationship with the dead scientist — he was, after all, just a janitor and certainly had no motive for wanting him dead — he was present the morning Rama was found murdered … and may have been the last person to see him alive. But he was hardly the only one there. Four graduate students, the Dean of Forensics, and a publicity specialist were nearby. Ruby is sure her father is innocent, but the evidence against him is quite convincing: two small, red-tinted vials from the Toxin Archive are found in his locker. With the police convinced they have their killer, Ruby must marshal all her wits and resources to track down the real culprit.
The setting for Poison Most Vial seems to be intentionally ambiguous … and it's not quite clear why. Ruby and her classmates are junior high school (7th/8th grade) students, but the environment they are in suggests an educational facility much more advanced, along the lines of a mathematics and science academy for gifted students, especially since it's associated in some way with the university. (To be sure, it helps facilitate the plot. Why else would a university allow kids to be roaming through the halls of their buildings unless they had some legitimate reason to be there?) The location of this academy is also unknown. Clues seem to suggest somewhere in the south, possibly Louisiana. These details may not be important to the overall story, but they do — or would if they were known — help paint a visual backdrop to the proceedings.
Setting all this aside, the storyline is reasonably well developed and appropriate for the intended audience of middle-school readers: a relatively simple murder accomplished in a relatively complex manner. The story opens and closes with a "statement to the court" from Clara Whitmore, a retired toxicologist, who acts as a mentor to Ruby. (She's also possibly the story's narrator, but that's a little unclear.) Where the plot stumbles a bit is in how Ruby goes about solving it. No doubt inspired to some degree by the number of forensic mysteries being written for adults, Ruby is encouraged to take a scientific approach to her investigation. But those expecting to find a full-blown youth-driven scientific investigation with "Eureka!" moments may be disappointed in how little science is actually presented along the way and how little it has to do with solving the crime.
Still, most (advanced) middle-school readers will find it's easy to identify with Ruby and her friends, and tagging along with her is probably where they will derive the most enjoyment from this mystery.
As of the date of this review, no Lexile measure has been assigned for this book.
Acknowledgment: Amulet Books provided an eARC of Poison Most Vial for this review.
Review Copyright © 2012 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
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Poison Most Vial by Benedict Carey
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: April 2012
List Price: $16.95