The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy
Right up front, Jordan Stratford advises the young readers of The Case of the Missing Moonstone (2015), the first book in his WOLLSTONECRAFT DETECTIVE AGENCY series, that he is playing fast and loose with history. Ada Byron (also called Ada Lovelace), Lord Byron’s daughter, was eighteen years younger than Mary Godwin, not three, but Stratford thought these two brilliant young women working together and solving mysteries would be fun, so he changed the timeline. He was right; this alternate history is good fun.
Ada lives in a mansion, cared for by servants, because her mother has gone off to their country house. Ada has a mathematical frame of mind and great curiosity. She is bad with names and leads a very sheltered existence, preferring to take refuge in her hot-air balloon that is tethered to the house’s rooftop. Mary Godwin is the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, writer and philosopher, and George Godwin, a philosopher. Her mother died shortly after she was born (this is factual), and her father is not wealthy, but she is given a chance to study with Ada Bryon’s tutor, who Ada calls “Peebs” because his monogram is PBS. Mary is a skilled observer of human interactions, and well read, and the two girls decide they will start up a “clandestine” detective agency. Peebs (Stratford tweaked the timeline again to allow Percy Shelley to be the girls’ tutor) and Mary’s enigmatic friend Charles, who works in a boot-black factory, have supporting roles in this endeavor.
In Stratford’s book, Mary is fourteen and Ada eleven. The Case of the Missing Moonstone chronicles their first case, one of a stolen necklace and a false confession. For a ten or eleven year old, the clues are just right, and the reader is able to play along. The story is fast-paced, with a lovely chase sequence near the end. Some scenes are charmingly silly, as when Ada and Mary go to visit a suspect in Newgate Prison, and Ada uses her inexorable logic on a poor baffled guard. I rolled my eyes but I could also imagine children giggling with delight as they read it. Stratford sprinkles in bits of history here and there, like the nuggets about the dictionary and the creation of the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Ada has a prototype “calculating engine” in her basement, but, to my disappointment, she doesn’t really use her mathematics here to solve the mystery. She writes out her “case notes” as a formula, but she doesn’t use the formula. Still, her logic and observation go a long way toward solving the case.
Kelly Murphy’s delightful images, in black, gray and white, add whimsy and charm to the story. I wish there had been a few more. The end-papers are portraits of all the characters, a nice touch.
All in all, The Case of the Missing Moonstone is good fun and I think fourth and fifth graders would enjoy it. At the end of the story, it appears the young detectives will have some help from still more family members. I’m curious to see what Stratford and Murphy do with that.
The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency — (2015- ) History, mystery, and science collide in a new series for middle-grade readers, perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society and Lemony Snicket! Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency! Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary. Mystery fans will love this tween girl riff on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. History buffs will be delighted to see all the real figures who play a role in this story and appreciate the extensive backmatter that helps separate truth from fiction. Parents and educators hoping to promote the STEM fields for girls will be thrilled to have a series where two girls use math, science, and creative analytical thinking to solve crimes. But most especially–emerging readers will love this series filled with humor, action, intrigue and wonderful artwork from Kelly Murphy.