The Clue in the Trees by Margi Preus is the second in the Enchantment Lake series. Francie Frye from the first novel, Enchantment Lake, has decided to remain with her aunts in Minnesota for her senior year at the local high school.
On the night before her first day of school, France is awakened by the noise of her long-lost brother Theo sneaking into the house. While she is happy to see him, Francie can’t help but be suspicious of his sudden reappearance. First, he immediately involves her in a three-a.m. break-in during which they are chased by a mysterious figure in a trench coat. A few days later, he becomes a primary suspect in a murder. Desperate to protect her brother, Francie vows to stay away from the investigation, but decides she must solve the mystery once and for all when she herself becomes a suspect.
It is clear that The Clue in the Trees is very much a middle book. The plot advances just enough from the previous book to hold reader interest into the next book, but not enough so as to give too much of the next book away.
As with Enchantment Lake, Preus does an excellent job of setting the scene. The descriptions of places and characters will make the reader feel as if they know the setting and people. Dialogue is believable, and Preus’ characterization of Francie carries over well from the previous book. Even though she attempts every effort to avoid getting involved in the the latest murder mystery, she can’t help but be dragged along with the intrigue. Francie’s aunts, who provided a welcome whimsical factor in Enchantment Lake, appear again in The Clue in the Trees. Unfortunately, their role has been greatly reduced, and I found myself missing their presence.
Other books readers might want to explore after reading The Clue in the Trees include Bone Gap by Laura Ruby or Being Henry David by Cal Armistead. Both books contain quirky characters that are somewhat reminiscent of Francie’s aunts, and both involved mysteries that double as journeys of self discovery. Being Henry David is heavier in tone than either of the Enchantment Lake books but is still recommended for readers who enjoy the mystery genre.
The Clue in the Trees is an excellent book for middle-school aged readers looking for a bit of adventure and imagination. While readers may be tempted to give up due to the slower plot movement, I encourage them to remain. Unfortunately with any series, there is always that book which is used to advance the plot but also has to hold back in order to set up the next book. The Clue in the Trees is that book, and I anticipate that the next in the series will harken back to the same feeling of suspense and quick moving past that was found in Enchantment Lake.