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Book Review: The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt

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The Mystery of the Third Lucretia is one of those books readers of all ages and genders want: a story that will immerse you in character and the world that lie within the pages. It’s the first in a new series by a new writer, and I was totally blown away by how well Susan Runholt created her teen sleuths and plunged them into an art-based mystery while keeping the suspense tight and the chuckles at regular intervals.

Officially, the Kari + Lucas series is for the YA crowd, but I’m thinking it’s more for the aggressive 9-12 year old readers. The serious YA crowd is looking for vampires, brand names, and sexual tension. You won’t find those things in this book. Instead, there’s a great story with modern teens who stay focused on friendships, exploring their world, and the mystery they’ve inadvertently stumbled onto.

I love the two characters. Kari (our narrator) is a down-to-earth fourteen-year-old who enjoys the simple side of life and lives with her single mom, a magazine writer. Lucas (took me a while to get used to that name on a girl) is the daughter of rich, inattentive parents. Lucas is also the feisty one, ready to dare anything while Kari likes at least a moment to weigh the risks before her curiosity and Lucas drag her into anything.

The plot revolving around Rembrandt’s two Lucretia paintings was awesome too. I wasn’t familiar with them, and I liked discovering the sad story that was behind them. Runholt does a lot with the Lucretia story, sticking up for women’s rights, but she does it without throwing it into the reader’s face.

I had my willing suspension of disbelief bumped a few times with the way events turned out. The fact that Kari and Lucas arrived at two different museums and saw the same guy there (in disguise) copying Rembrandt paintings was hard to take, but Runholt’s story is so good you want to believe it and do. Then you get immediately swept up in the puzzle of why Gallery Guy (the girls’ nickname for him) is copying the paintings.

Although the plot is relatively simple, the progression of the mystery is well done. Runholt incorporates a lot of the surroundings of London and Amsterdam, and it’s obvious the author has spent considerable time in those places. Kari and Lucas have to act to pursue the mystery rather than just hanging around waiting for it to unravel itself.

One of the most charming things about the novel is Kari’s first-person narrative. The words read so easily, and Kari’s thinking and attitude come alive on the page. Runholt has a second mystery in the series coming out, Rescuing Seneca Crane, with more coming. School librarians and parents wanting non-threatening kid-lit for mystery lovers would do well to pick up this series.

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