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Reviewed by Louise Jones
It seems that whenever you hear a story about a child detective, you immediately think of Nancy Drew – which is weird because she’s been criticized lately for taking such a passive role in mystery solving. Nancy Drew is a fine teen detective, I’m sure, but for a young sleuth who really delves into the thick of it, with a cynical voice and an eye for mathematical detail Alice Jones is your man (well, girl). Sarah Rubin brings a new heroine to the 2016 scene who’s clued up on math and mystery for a fun and entertainingly written romp.
Rubin has an engaging tone which makes the book an easy read and more importantly makes Alice the kind of kid you’d be happy to sit with in school – and not just because she’s really good at maths. Like, really good.
Alice as a protagonist is a character who knows her limitations, but more often than not can think of a sly way to get around them. Sure, she’s more calculating than a lot of 12 year olds but it’s nice to see her character develop as she realises classroom troublemaker Kevin Jordan proves a surprisingly able companion outside of school hours. Rubin teases a bit of a romance between the two but thankfully this plot takes a backseat to what is surely far more prevalent for pre-teens: finding out whether invisibility suits actually exist and if not, how a well-guarded scientist has vanished completely from the premises.
Alongside Alice dealing with smarmy businessman and an infamous pharmaceutical company, which is referenced but never seen, we also get a good slice of home life. Rubin’s heroine deals with a fractured family set up, using Alice’s concerns about her all-singing, all-dancing twin sister to bring some vulnerability to her protagonist. Admittedly, this does slow the pace of the mystery at hand but an event in the book which forces the two aspects of Alice’s life to combine also marks a definite pick-up of action in the plot. The heightened tension does run the risk of making the plot look rushed toward the end of the story but Rubin makes it a showdown that’s worth the reader’s while.
The Impossible Clue is a fair title, as there are aspects of the mystery that readers will not be able to guess at. However Alice’s discoveries are exciting nonetheless and the plot ties itself up quite nicely for a neat finish. Rubin hasn’t created a story that will be read over and over, as the mystery isn’t as thrilling the second time round but it’s the character that readers will want to return for. Alice is astute and sarcastic, but Rubin doesn’t make her a dislikable pre-teen. Instead readers will find a protagonist they’d quite happily spend a fortnight solving crimes with. She’s got the skillset and with some luck Alice Jones will have a volume of stories to rival Nancy Drew.