This is one of six mystery novels for young readers by Hightower, I own and have enjoyed them all. Her mysteries are more the “solve a puzzle and find a treasure” type than ones involving major crimes, and I like that. They are beautifully written with appealing characters.
The Armistead family and their estate have fallen on hard times during the Depression, and after the deaths of several family members some ten years earlier. They were once the most prominent family in their small town, but now are struggling to keep food on the table. Gran is the patriarch, once a famous horsewoman, but now lamed by a fall, she manages the house and cooks for them. Her daughter Cynthia tries to manage their finances, and has little to work with, but does her best. Maggie and Bugsie are the children of Cynthia’s brother, who with his wife were killed in a tragic auto accident the same day their father, Gran’s husband, died of a heart attack in his study in the Woodfield estate.
Maggie’s main interest is riding her horse Stardust, a young horse, but one that shows promise as a champion jumper. She trains him whenever she can. Bugsie is fascinated by insects, and has a plan to help the family fortunes by catching butterflies and getting them to lay eggs so he can eventually sell the chrysalises. Hovering over the family is the memory of Uncle Wally, the black sheep of the family, and also a published poet. Wallace Armistead has been gaining fame for his one book of poetry, and Martin, a young reporter, comes to Woodfield to try to learn the whereabouts of letters Uncle Wally had written. A publisher is willing to pay well for them if he can find them. He soon befriends the family, and they all help him search. Meanwhile, Maggie is trying to raise money to enter the most important steeplechase race in the local horse show so she can use the prize money to help her family too. Things are complicated by a sneaky car salesman and a flighty housekeeper who might have those missing letters.
An excellent read if you can find it, as are all of Hightower’s books. Recommended.