The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 17, 2011

Cari Rerat, book review: Mystery plants you squarely in the 1940s

By Cari Rerat
Globe Columnist


‘The Girl is Murder’

By Kathryn Miller Haines

Teen fiction

Iris’ life is upside down. Her pop is home from the Navy because of an injury he sustained at the bombing of Pearl Harbor, her mother is dead, and Iris is about to start her sophomore year at the Lower East Side’s P.S. 110 -- a far cry from her former posh Upper East Side private school.

As Iris struggles to find her place in school and with her pop, she begins to realize that Pop’s detective business isn’t doing so well. His ill-fitting prosthetic leg slows him down and makes him memorable to those he is investigating. Obviously, Pop needs help, and Iris thinks she’s just the girl for the job.

After secretly but successfully documenting the affair of a client’s unfaithful wife -- a case Pop struggled with considerably -- Iris thinks her pop will welcome her help with open arms.

Of course, this is not the case. Pop tells Iris, in no uncertain terms, that she is to leave the detecting to him and to concentrate on being a teenager.

When a boy at Iris’ new school goes missing and Pop is hired to find him, Iris decides that she will be Pop’s assistant even if she has to lie to almost everyone in order to make that happen.

Iris’ former good girl persona is shed fairly quickly as she manipulates the truth to her pop and her new friends to find out what happened to Tom. She forms a tentative bond with one of the girls from Tom’s old gang, The Rainbows, and finds herself hanging out with the “wrong” crowd, swing dancing in Harlem and even drinking a little alcohol.

Getting into trouble and lying gets Iris to the bottom of things, but repairing the relationships damaged along the way may prove just a difficult as solving the mystery.

Initially, I hesitated to buy “The Girl is Murder” because the cover art, while capturing the 1940s noir vibe fairly well, doesn’t exactly scream “I’m a good book! Check me out!” (You know we all really do judge books by their covers, right?)

Cover art aside, I am very thankful I decided to trust my gut and get this book. Haines sets the 1940s stage so well I felt like I was watching a movie from that era.

The characters are solid, believable people who make the pages fly with their witty, slang-filled dialogue. The mystery surrounding Tom’s disappearance is well constructed with enough twists to keep readers interested. And Iris’ struggle to navigate her new surroundings and fit in are painfully real.

I was most intrigued by the little details of life in the early 1940s -- rationing, racial and class tension, patriotism, etc. I am not typically a reader of historical fiction, but add a little mystery to the history and I’m all in.

“The Girl is Murder” is an excellent choice for teens and adults who like historical fiction or mysteries. The sequel, “The Girl is Trouble” will be out next summer -- with a cover that looks very similar to this one. Maybe I’m wrong about the cover’s appeal.


Cari Rerat is the teen librarian for the Joplin Public Library.