At every library sale I have a moment that might be called my Day of Reckoning. This is when I sit down and attempt to narrow down my purchases. There are some books which prove unacceptable almost as soon as I glance inside of them. I return these to their tables. Others are equally necessary. Then there are others which prove more difficult and require more than a cursory examination. This book, The Mystery in Mexico caused me quite a struggle. I assumed from the title that the book would be set in Mexico and might therefore have some educational value. On the other hand, it had the look of ‘horse fiction’ which I do not enjoy. (My only exception is Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind.) In the end, since the book cost only $ .25 cents, I purchased it. Am I glad I did? I suppose.
Linda Craig, her brother Bob, and their best friends, Larry and Kathy have all been selected to be representatives in the United States – Mexican Youth Exchange Program. As the story begins Linda and Bob receive Josephina and Pedro de Santis (the Mexican representatives) at their ranch. Pedro and Josephina tell the Craigs of the mysterious disappearance of Agua Vieja the river which supplied the Santis hacienda and which kept their magnificent olive trees alive. Linda and Bob promise to thoroughly investigate the matter once they are over the border. But when Linda and her friends arrive in Mexico and begin to learn more about the Agua Vieja’s disappearance, they become convinced that its disappearance is no natural phenomenon; it has been intentionally diverted. Who would do such a thing? Will Linda be able to discover the criminals before the de Santis crops wither and die?
Sprinkled throughout are fancily dressed matadors, fiestas, horse shows, and Spanish words.
Having recently indulged myself in a bout of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, I found reading this story a sort of queer torture. Linda’s careless, happy-go-lucky style of investigation (tumbling off of horses and landing on clues) contrasted painfully with Holmes’ systematic, indefatigable intrigues. However, for young readers who have not yet been introduced to the king of detectives, this will be less noticeable. But even when not compared to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, The Mystery in Mexico can only be considered sadly mediocre writing. There is nothing to recommend it stylistically; the characters are rather less than one-dimensional, the dialogue is typically modern, the plot-line underdeveloped, the resolution predictable. Melodrama abounds as well as close shaves which aren’t really close shaves and near death experiences which aren’t near death experiences.
When I first read The Mystery in Mexico, I somehow missed the ages of the main characters. Based on their actions, level of thinking, and manner of speaking, I estimated that they were between twelve and fourteen. Imagine my surprise when, upon re-reading the first chapter to recall facts for this review, I learned that they were sixteen to eighteen! There was no latent maturity to suggest these ages. However, this discovery did slightly abate one of my other concerns.
That concern was the fact that Linda, Bob, Larry, and Kathy made this trip to Mexico unaccompanied by their parents (or in Linda and Bob’s case, grandparents). They were given free reign once in Mexico, though they were at times accompanied by Senor and Senora de Santis. Their behavior towards adults is not disrespectful but it does not exemplify that degree of deference which should be shown; adults are treated as equals.
Josefina calls California a ‘magic’ land.
Senora de Santis, speaking of Chihuahuas says, “Their fierceness to strangers is Nature’s way of helping them survive despite their small size.” Replace nature with God and the statement is accurate enough.
There are a few instances of very light boy-girl teasing.
Conclusion. If you are seeking to cultivate your children’s tastes by providing them with only the finest of literature, then The Mystery In Mexico will not be on your reading list. However, if you are looking for ‘filler’ material for voracious readers, this book is innocent enough to suffice.
Note: This book is the fifth in the Linda Craig series. I have not read any of the other stories and cannot offer an opinion of them.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret