Isaveth Breck’s family has been struggling for awhile. She, her father, and her sisters are still grieving for her mother. Without her spell-making abilities, they’re having a hard time making ends meet. Then Isaveth’s father is accused of murder. If Isaveth wants to save him, she’ll have to count on the help of a new friend named Quiz. But Quiz has his own secrets, and Isaveth will have to deal with the fall-out.
I’ve loved all of R.J. Anderson’s books to date, but A Pocket Full of Murder miiiight be my favorite. It’s basically all of my favorite things: great characters, interesting magic and worldbuilding, mysteries, complicated families. While this makes it sound busy, the emotional heart of the story is definitely centered on Isaveth and her quest to save her father and her family. She’s a brave, tenacious heroine, and she makes mistakes and also learns from them and moves past them.
I also liked Quiz quite a bit–although I’m not entirely sure if this is simply due to his snarky charms (definitely possible) or if there’s a bit of reflected glory there. There’s a subtle homage to a Certain Golden Age Mystery woven through this story–one which I am Very Fond of. If the reader doesn’t get the references, the story will certainly stand on its own, but for the reader who’s also a fan, picking out the subtle references is very fun. At any rate, Quiz is definitely his own person, with different emotional beats and backstory.
It’s also worth mentioning that Isaveth and her family are a religious minority–I read them as a minority sect of the major religion in this world–and that this plays an important part in the story. I didn’t feel that this was in any way preachy. The Brecks have different relationships to their faith and this was shown in a natural and organic way. But because they are Moshite, there’s a great deal of prejudice against them, which only hurts Isaveth’s father.
And there are more divisions in this world, particularly between nobles–who have access to a certain kind of magic–and commoners–whose magic is more mundane and less flashy. Isaveth is talented at this kind of magic, taking up her mother’s legacy to keep her family alive and together. I loved the descriptions of the spell tablets she bakes, which are such a unique and interesting way of approaching magic.
In terms of the mystery, I guessed who, but not how or why. Isaveth and Quiz’s attempts to uncover the truth of what happened are well drawn out, and I think would be engaging for a younger reader. Quiz’s secrets play a part in the solution as well, and while I guessed most of them, I think the target audience might not.
At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed this one from start to finish, and my only complaint is that I wanted more!
(Disclaimer: I’ve known RJ online for a number of years now; however, I’m also genuinely a fan of her books in general and this one in particular.)
Book source: bought it as soon as I heard about it
Book information: 2015, Atheneum; middle grade fantasy/mystery