The Detective’s Assistant by Kate Hannigan

Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers 

Summary: 11-year-old Nell Warne has had a tough life, seeing her mother die, then her two brothers, and finally, her estranged father. With no other family left, she is unceremoniously dumped on her dead uncle’s widow, Aunt Kitty, in Chicago. Aunt Kitty has no interest in taking in an orphan. First of all, she blames Nell’s father for her husband’s murder. And secondly, she’s too busy with her career as the first woman detective in America, working for Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency. But there’s no other place for Nell, so the two of them end up traveling undercover to Philadelphia, Mississippi, and New York City to solve a series of mysteries. Their final case brings them to Baltimore, where Nell proves herself once and for all by helping Aunt Kitty thwart an assassination attempt on the new president, Abraham Lincoln. Grades 4-7.

Pros: The author’s note explains that Kate (Kitty) Warne was a real person, the first female detective in America. Both she and Nell are strong, spunky characters that are fun to read about, and their adventures read like a series of 19th-century Nancy Drew mysteries. The subplot about Nell’s father, Kate’s husband, and their involvement with the Underground Railroad just before the Civil War add interesting historical details.

Cons: Although the letters between Nell and her friend Jemma helped explain some necessary background, they sometimes felt like an interruption of the main plot.

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