In the town of Tupelo Landing (pop. 148) on the eastern shore of North Carolina, most residents have small wallets but big hearts—and even bigger mysteries. Perhaps the biggest heart and mystery belong to rising sixth grader Moses “Mo” LoBeau, who, as a baby, was sent downriver by her birth mother during a hurricane. Rescued and raised by the Colonel, after he crashed his car and lost all memory of his previous life, and his wife, Miss Lana, Mo has spent her young life trying to find out the identity of her “Upstream Mother.”

But when stingy Mr. Jesse turns up murdered, outsider Detective Joe Starr arrives in town and the Colonel goes missing, Mo has more important problems to worry about. In between serving up daily specials at Miss Lana’s café, she enlists her friend, Dale, to help her solve Mr. Jesse’s murder. And when Starr’s investigation leads to Dale as a prime suspect, Miss Lana is kidnapped and a rumor surfaces involving the Colonel and a missing suitcase full of money, Mo’s detective skills become a matter of life or death.

Readers will find many things to love about this charming debut novel, in which both the perils and rewards of small-town life shine through. Mo’s “soldier” relationship with the befuddled Colonel is both playful and endearing. She may never find her birth mother, but she realizes that she has all the family she’ll ever need. With quirky, lovable characters, spot-on dialogue and twists upon twists, this mystery takes on the best elements of Southern storytelling. Children will be at least three times lucky to read it.

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