Max Starling’s parents are actors who own a successful theater company in New City, a vague approximation of Victorian London. When an offer to sail to India aboard the Flower of Kashmir arrives, the family happily accepts. But when Max arrives at the dock at the appointed time, he finds that no such ship exists . . . and that his parents have vanished.

Fortunately for Max, his grandmother, a librarian who lives in an adjoining house, is willing to take him in until his parents return. But Max, almost 13, yearns for independence. Max and his grandmother soon strike a bargain, but the compromise involves Max earning some of his own keep. When he accidentally finds and returns a runaway child to the child’s grateful mother, Max knows he’s found the ideal job. Dressing in his parents’ theatrical costumes and taking on personas borrowed from their dramatic oeuvre, Max successfully locates a lost dog, discovers why magazines are disappearing from the library and finds a valuable object that’s been missing for years. Along the way, he tackles other seemingly intractable issues faced by his frustrated painting teacher, a destitute university student and a highly inquisitive girl. But what will Max call his new occupation? It’s not really detecting, finding or even problem solving. The word Max eventually coins to describe his work is the perfect choice.

Newbery Medal winner Cynthia Voigt’s latest middle grade offering is reminiscent of the quasi-Gothic, not-quite-realistic qualities of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Although each of Max’s odd jobs seems at first to be a different episode, the cases soon converge as elements from each are revealed to be part of a larger—and longstanding—mystery. Occasional full-page pen and ink illustrations by Iacopo Bruno break up the text and help establish the mood. And with the stage set in this first volume, look for two more books about Mister Max coming soon.

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