Mister Max by Cynthia Voigt Book Review

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt
Illustrated by Iacopo Bruno

Max's parents are actors, owning their own theater company and always performing and twelve-year-old Max has played many parts in their various shows. Then one day a mysterious letter arrives asking for the two Starlings to come perform and set up an acting troupe in India. Not wanting to turn down such an opportunity the two pack their bags, get an extra ticket for Max, and make their final preparations. However, when Max shows up at the docks the boat his parents are supposed to be on doesn't exist and his parents have disappeared with only a cryptic letter as a clue. Max returns to his home and librarian grandmother heartbroken over the turn of events but determined to make his own way, for twelve he feels, is old enough to be on his own. Purely by accident, Max falls into the line of work most would call detective work, but can he solve the biggest mystery of all, what happened to his parents?

Mister Max is a cute story that I guess would be considered historical fiction although there is little historical information within. I could never really pinpoint the exact time period, the use of money completely skewing this (Max earns $50 for his detective work. A portly sum in Victorian London, yet this amount only lasts Max a week or two). There was also the issue of independence, which Max desperately wanted and was willing to maintain, which would not have been such an issue in this time period. Apprenticeships cost money and once Max had earned enough through his sleuthing, he should have been able to find a decent clerk position with the money he had pocketed, boys did that kind of work all the time.

Histocracy aside, the plot was really a series of vignetted mysteries that, in the end, combine to create a greater mystery and help Max solve a matter of the heart. On the downside is the fact that although Max's parents are clearly missing, he doesn't seem as interested in solving that particular mystery, leaving it up to his grandmother to do the sleuthing. There were so many hints, letters in code, mysteriously heavy paintings, etc. that made the reader all too aware that Max's parents were in trouble and yet he is so concerned about remaining independent and not being forced to live with his grandmother that he sets it aside, sure that they know what they are doing. Let me point out here that his parents are overly-dramatic morons who don't seem to have a bit of sense between the two of them. In fact, they are so careless that they have been known to forget about Max altogether, being so caught up in their own theatrics. Max sees this drama in a warm light, but it made his parents highly unlikable and goofy.

It is a cute book, but a long one and I think if I was to recommend a middle grade mystery this would not be it. I believe I would steer readers toward Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms, which I somehow didn't review on this blog when I first read it, but I can assure you, it is brilliant.