For our final entry in the Children's Classics Mystery Challenge series, I want to recommend another winner of a major award - the winner of this year's coveted Edgar for "Best Juvenile," awarded by the Mystery Writers of America. It's "Closed for the Season," by Mary Downing Hahn, a book intended for roughly fourth through seventh grades (I think it would probably do well among older children too).
"Closed for the Season" stars a thirteen-year-old boy, Logan Forbes, who has just moved with his family into a fairly creepy old house in a new town. Logan meets the almost-twelve-year-old boy next door, Arthur Jenkins, a strange - all right, downright weird boy. Arthur tells Logan that the woman who used to live in the Forbes's new house was murdered, and the killer has never been caught. The victim also was accused of embezzling funds from the Magic Forest amusement park where she was the bookkeeper. Arthur believes that she was no embezzler, and he persuades Logan to help him try to find out what really happened by solving the murder.
The boys explore the Magic Forest - now an abandoned and dangerous place - and uncover a variety of clues, both in Logan's house and in the old park. There's a great deal more: Logan runs afoul of other schoolchildren (who dislike Arthur because, you know, he's weird). The boys do some trespassing, steal some library materials, run afoul of a dangerous convict, get involved with a reporter who may not be all she seems to be, and uncover the truth about the embezzlement and the murder. The book ends in a terrifying return to the abandoned, overgrown and decaying Magic Forest amusement park in the middle of the night - where the murderer is waiting for them.
Hahn keeps things moving, while also providing some really good, frightening atmospherics. The back of the hardcover edition carries this quote, which I think is pretty typical:
If the Magic Forest was scary in the daylight, it was truly terrifying in the dark. All around us kudzu lifted and fell in the breeze, sighing as if it were a living, breathing creature, a shape changer. Now it was a monster, now an ogre, now a long-armed witch, always menacing, never benign, never still. Shadows shifted, darkened, lightened, grew, shrank. Leaves murmured like ghosts, whispering to each other of death and decay.
It's a fine thriller, with legitimate clues and some pretty clever detective work on the part of Logan and Arthur. It's also a great story about friendship and learning to understand that your parents don't always get it right. If you're looking for a book that could convince those almost-teen-aged boys to get involved with mysteries and reading, this is a really good book, richly deserving its Edgar.