And Then I Read: PIECES AND PLAYERS by Blue Balliett

Cover and illustrations by Brett Helquist

This is the fourth book in the “Chasing Vermeer” series by Balliett, each of which includes a mystery involving fine art. In the first three, a particular artist was the focus: Vermeer, Frank Lloyd Wright and Alexander Calder. This time the mystery is about thirteen pieces of art stolen from a small private museum in the Chicago suburb where three returning children live; Calder and Petra, featured in the three previous books, and Tommy, included in the second and third. Joining them are two more children who were featured in other books by Balliett that I haven’t read yet; Early and Zoomy. Tommy, Calder and Petra’s friend Mrs. Sharpe is a trustee of the small museum, and she and the other trustees are characters and sometimes suspects in the story as the children investigate what might have happened to the missing art. Mrs. Sharpe’s son Eagle is also introduced and plays a mysterious part, sometimes helping the children, sometimes considered a suspect. Episodes inside the museum are key to the story, as the children seem to be receiving messages about the theft from the other art there, and from the ghost of the museum’s founder. When they decide to sneak into the museum secretly at night, things get dangerous. And who are the “black jackets,” older kids who seem to be following them everywhere?

I enjoyed this, but not as much as the previous books. There’s such a large cast that the book seems less focused, and the mystery is harder to understand both for the children and the reader. The new children are interesting, but it’s harder to give them all moments to shine in this busy plot. Still, recommended.

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