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August 13, 2019 (Hardcover edition)
August 13, 2019 (Kindle edition)
How did Lauren Magaziner follow up Mystery in the Mansion, episode one of her Case Closed gamebooks series? With a sequel that's four hundred seventy-one pages long, eighty-one more than Mystery in the Mansion. Stolen from the Studio picks up the narrative with Carlos Serrano and his friends Eliza and Frank Thompson on a three-hour car ride to the television studios of Burbank, California. Solving the LeCavalier mystery a few months back breathed life into Ms. Serrano's failing Las Pistas Detective Agency, but Carlos's mother isn't pleased that he, Eliza, and six-year-old Frank were sneaking behind her back in order to crack the case, and she doesn't want them doing it again in Burbank. Executive producer Wolfgang Westover is at his wit's end after Layla Jay, sixteen-year-old star of the popular Teen Witch television program, went missing yesterday. He fears she's been kidnapped. At the studio, Carlos feels the familiar urge to dig in and interrogate people connected to Layla, but his mother insists he, Eliza, and Frank wait in another part of the studio while she investigates alone. Will she ever recognize his aptitude for detective work?
Carlos and friends won't sit idly when there's sleuthing to be done, of course. There are promising leads pointing every which way, but it's up to you which ones Carlos should follow. Will he, Eliza, and Frank eavesdrop on his mother's closed-door interview with Westover, where all the major facts of the case will be shared? It's crucial to gather this information without alerting Carlos's mother. If she knows he's defying her, she'll implement stronger measures to exclude him from the case. A kidnapper may be lurking around the studio, and she doesn't want Carlos or his friends in harm's way. By all accounts, Westover had an amicable relationship with Layla, but the abduction has brought his studio mounds of publicity. Would he have kidnapped his teen star to boost ratings? Layla's mother, Miriam, is another suspect; Layla had her ejected from the set more than once, and reports indicate the rift became more serious recently. Layla's agent, Agatha Tuggle, has also exhibited shifty behavior toward her client, and Brad Bradley, teen co-star of the show, is known to be jealous of Layla's immense popularity. The temperamental director of Teen Witch, Douglas "Guillotine" Chen, has little affection for Layla, but he seems to dislike everyone. Are any of these suspects responsible for Layla's disappearance?
You may direct Carlos, Eliza, and Frank's investigation however you choose. They could wind up in the sub-basement, where the kidnapper has set up an ambush. He or she might lock Carlos and friends in a room with a bomb programmed to detonate in a few minutes, or lure them onto an isolated set outdoors where no one will hear their screams for help. Keeping track of all the suspect information is difficult, but it's the only way to find Layla before her abductor gets scared and eliminates her. What does Louise Jenkins, Layla's teen "stalker", have to contribute to the investigation? Westover's niece, Louise was grudgingly allowed to be at the studio even if she made Layla uncomfortable, but has she seen something that could break this case wide open? Alternatively, could Louise be the kidnapper? Brad Bradley comes across as a run-of-the-mill Hollywood narcissist, but he's left a paper trail of secret communications that could illuminate who has compelling reason to want Layla out of the picture. If you make one wrong choice at any juncture it could end Carlos's hope of solving the case, and is likely to cost Layla her life, so you mustn't relax until you're all the way to a positive ending. That requires hefty helpings of shrewdness and luck, but getting there on your first attempt is doable.
Stolen from the Studio lacks the atmospheric moments of Mystery in the Mansion. The silliness of some endings is just as extreme, and negative endings often seem arbitrary, so the extra eighty-one pages make this sequel feel more tedious than the original. Grateful as I am that Lauren Magaziner put such effort into a twisty gamebook marketed to mainstream middle-grade readers, I have to admit I felt relieved when I finished the book. Four hundred seventy-one pages feels like it takes forever when the story lacks originality and does a poor job maintaining a baseline level of realism. Also, Frank's "contributions" to the investigation don't make up for his constant inappropriate behavior that goes mostly unchallenged by even the adults. I do like that the hints for the puzzles are more comprehensive than in Mystery in the Mansion, so readers are less likely to get stumped and have to quit the game. Carlos's ongoing conflict with his mother about his desire to be a detective resolves in a satisfying way if you make it to certain endings, but that's not enough to lift Stolen from the Studio to be even an average book. I'll be back for episode three, Haunting at the Hotel, but I'm not sure Lauren Magaziner has the vision to be a great gamebook author. Not everyone can be the next Edward Packard or Joe Dever.
Known EditionsHardcover edition