Thursday, July 27, 2023

Review: Charlotte Illes Is Not a Detective by Katie Siegel

Who among us read Harriet the Spy and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and didn't want to be a spy or detective? I definitely carried a notebook around for my very mundane and unimpressive observations and was always hopeful I'd stumble across a case I could solve (and if it meant staying overnight in a museum, all the better). Of course, I was neither a spy nor a detective and I didn't grow up to be one either. But what if I had? In a twist on this thinking, Charlotte Illes, in Katie Siegel's novel Charlotte Illes is Not a Detective, was a detective as a child but has grown up trying to move away from her early fame, eschewing any cases people try to throw her way. It's a fun and nostalgic premise for those of us of a certain age but it wasn't quite as wonderful in the execution as I'd wanted.

Charlotte was once a celebrated "kid detective." Now she's a floundering adult, recently fired from her job at a call center, and at a loss as to what is next for her. She is still trying to run away from the fame she acquired as a child, insisting that she's not a detective and has zero desire to be one again. But when her older brother Landon calls her old garage phone (the one she used as the kid detective) and tells her he has a case he needs her help with, she can hardly say no. Apparently his girlfriend has been receiving creepy notes and he wants his sister to figure out who the quasi-stalker is. Charlotte grudgingly agrees to go to NYC and help Landon and Olivia out, reconnecting with two of her closest friends who she hasn't been responding to much lately. Charlotte uncovers the truth of the notes very quickly but then things turn serious as a much larger situation arises, one that has a disappearance and danger written all over it. Will Charlotte be able to solve this higher stakes mystery?

Charlotte as a character was pretty directionless, whiny, and quite probably a little depressed when the novel opens. It is slightly disconcerting to have a grown up Harriet the Spy out at bars, speed dating, and the like but that could have been entertaining in the end, especially if the actual mystery that Charlotte investigates ended up being compelling. Unfortunately I'm not all that interested in a mystery about a corporate workplace and unionization in a novel peopled by a multitude of characters the reader never quite gets to know or care about. The story was also quite a bit slower than expected. This is apparently the first in a book series and based on a TikTok series by the author. It was a lighthearted and easy read, if not everything I'd hoped, so the jury's still out on whether I'll look for the next one or not. But for readers intrigued by the concept of a kid detective all grown up, amateur sleuths, and cozy mysteries, this might be what you're looking for.

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