Scholastic, 2012 231 pages
Much like an episode of Colombo, our novel open with the crime. The famous flag that flew over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and inspired the Star Spangled Banner is stolen in an elaborate scheme during a gala at the Smithsonian Institute. The next day as a snow storm socks a group of seemingly unrelated children together at the Washington airport, the news breaks out about the theft. Snooty Senator Snickerbottom is also at the airport and he publicly pledges to discover the culprit. The kids, tired of sitting around, decide that the flag must also be stranded at the airport and become determined to find it. To make matters worse, one of the kid's moms is accused of the crime. Now finding the culprit becomes real and desperate. The search leads them to a mysterious man with a snake tattoo, a new friend whose parents belong to a worldwide symphony orchestra, and a runaway dog. After wandering away from their distracted parents, they manage to find a clue, which leads them to another. Finally, they find themselves trapped in the baggage handling area being chased by the bad guys. Will they save the day and uncover the true thief?
A classic mystery, Capture the Flag delivers the goods to young people new to the genre and learning to decipher clues. The setting is perfect, allowing for everyone to be trapped in the same place and providing adult distraction, freeing up our young heroes to dash about. An airport is a small micro-society, providing the perfect place to host a mystery with exciting nooks and crannies. Although we see the crime being committed at the beginning of the story, the reader is not told exactly WHO did it, allowing for guessing and surprises. Red herrings are offered and just enough characters are introduced to create suspects without confusing the reader. It is hard to find a classic, yet contemporary who-done-it for kids, but this is a great choice. The flag offers a layer of history and readers will learn a bit about the background of our national anthem and the often overlooked War of 1812. For a book that was written seven years ago, there are relevant issues for today's political climate such as the villainization of folks from other cultures, corrupt power-hungry politicians, and the need to protect our national treasures. Messner also illustrates the current trend of children escaping into the world of video games at the expense of living their real lives. Two sequels follow the further adventures of these young armature detectives as they seek to protect other treasures, giving readers a place to go after completing this volume.