|User Summary:||Your mother runs a down-on-its-luck detective agency. A wealthy woman asks for her help finding out who is sending her death threats, but your mom is down with the flu and unable to take the case. Together with your best friend and her annoying little brother, you set out to solve the mystery.|
This is definitely an unusual gamebook for an old-timer like me - a 390-page long hardcover with no interior illustrations (except for many visual puzzles scattered throughout the text). It reflects how much the children's book market has changed since the eighties. Also of note is that the player character is Latino and poor (which would have been inconceivable in a gamebook published back then). While the heroes of your typical CYOA book are middle-class white kids with not a single money worry in the world, the main character in this book takes up the case in order to make money to help his family, which is a nice change of pace. In spite of its peculiarities, I found the book to be a mixed bag. The story does drag along quite a bit (in good part due to the silly, useless banter between the protagonists). The book also suffers from a problem common to mystery gamebooks such as Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? in the CYOA series: there is a variety of ways to complete the story successfully, but since the basic plot remains the same no matter which one the reader chooses, the suspense from the first few readings turns into boredom pretty soon. Things aren't helped by the fact that reaching a successful conclusion is not very hard at all. As I mentioned earlier, there are many visual and logic puzzles to solve. While I have to give the author credit for a couple which are very clever, most of them are extremely easy, which adds to the lack of challenge. Overall, while it is obvious the author feels a lot of love for the gamebook form, this is a highly flawed experiment.
"Time is a fiend, children. It moves faster and faster the older you get."
When I first heard about Mystery in the Mansion, I was excited. A mainstream children's author writing a gamebook nearly four hundred pages long was almost unprecedented; what innovations would Lauren Magaziner introduce? Young Carlos Serrano is in a tight spot. The Las Pistas Detective Agency has seen a decline in fortune since the owner, Carlos's mother, bungled a big case half a year ago. No one hires her anymore, and the Serranos are in a financial crunch. So it's a godsend when Guinevere LeCavalier, an elderly woman from the posh River Woods neighborhood, contacts Las Pistas for help. She is receiving credible threats on her life, and wants the agency to put a stop to it. This could be the break Carlos's mother needs, but the morning she's scheduled to meet with Mrs. LeCavalier, Carlos's mother awakens with a debilitating cold. She asks him to call her associate detective, but Carlos knows Cole is busy with his own caseload. Carlos sneaks away to meet Mrs. LeCavalier and take the case himself, but does he have it in him to stare down mortal danger and reason through difficult clues like a real gumshoe?
Carlos won't be alone as you guide him. His clever friend Eliza, who knows nothing of the Serranos' financial problems, joins the investigation, accompanied by her quirky six-year-old brother Frank. Not long after the trio arrives in River Woods, it's obvious this is no normal case. Guinevere LeCavalier is wildly eccentric; her married daughter, Ivy, has feuded with her for years, but is just now returning to the fold in hopes of reconciliation; ill-tempered Smythe, the butler, is suspiciously opposed to the young detectives exploring the sprawling LeCavalier home; and the neighbor, elderly Patty Schnozzleton, routinely spies on the estate from inside her own mansion. Add a greasy lawyer (Joe Maddock), a shifty landscaper (Otto Paternoster), and others weary of Mrs. LeCavalier's peculiar ways, and the pool of suspects is in no danger of drying up.
With three hundred ninety pages of story, Carlos and friends have room to roam. Direct them to interrogate Smythe, Maddock, Ivy, or Guinevere LeCavalier, depending on what your instincts tell you. Which of the suspects are merely irritable, and who holds a grudge deep enough that they might resort to murder? The mansion is spectacular at first sight, but there's more beneath the surface: Mrs. LeCavalier's deceased husband designed it with secret corridors, rooms, and underground tunnels, often featuring built-in puzzles you must solve to gain entry. Mr. LeCavalier was quite a prankster; can you spot his jokes before Carlos gets played? Instead of investigating at the mansion, you could send the detectives to Patty Schnozzleton's house and probe her connection to the threats. A significant portion of the mystery involves her, and there are clues at her residence. Proceed logically, but hurry: if the case isn't solved to Mrs. LeCavalier's satisfaction, the Las Pistas Detective Agency will never regain its luster. Can Carlos, Eliza, and Frank deliver under pressure?
Mystery in the Mansion may be too cliché, random, and silly for its own good, but there are things to like. The mansion's atmosphere is superb at times, though the feeling could have been more pervasive. I love that Lauren Magaziner put such creative energy into constructing a gamebook. The Case Closed series is loaded with potential, and I'm as excited for book two as I was for this one. If you like long, complex gamebooks, this is right up your alley.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the hardcover images.|
Please log in to manage your collection or post a review.