It’s Christmas time at Greenglass House, a smugglers’ inn run by Ben and Nora Pine and their adopted son, Milo. Usually this is a quiet time in the house, just the family and no guests, but this year, five, apparently unconnected, guests all appear one night. After the cook and her two daughters come to help, there is a snowstorm and nobody can get in or out. And then the mysterious thefts start.
Yes, it sounds like an Agatha Christie closed circle mystery, combined with The Westing Game (Raskin, 1978) and it does somewhat follow the tropes of both. Over the course of a few evenings, each guest tells a story to entertain the others, but all these stories have layers to them which connect to Greenglass House, and all the guests seem to be looking for something connected with the house.
Milo and the cook’s daughter Meddy, set out to investigate, and decide to treat it like a role-playing game, and so they each assume a persona, with associated powers, to do this. And these themes of disguise, layers and motives are woven both through the mystery and into the personal lives of the characters.
12 year-old Milo is at the center of it all. His parents adopted him as a foundling and he is Chinese. He clearly loves his parents, and they love him (one of the pleasures of this book is the warmth of this family relationship), but in the persona of Negret he allows himself to invent and think about his birth father.
The mystery is elegantly and satisfyingly worked out, as Milo and Meddy keep one step ahead of the thief (or thieves), and there are some significant twists along the way – though I’m still unsure if a big reveal at the end is actually necessary or adds to the story.
The writing is a little slow-paced, which makes me concerned about its kid appeal. Both of Kate Milford’s previous books have been critically well-received but are a tough sell with kids. This one seems to be less oblique, and more appealing, and I think will engage smart, middle grade readers.