A Pocket Full of Murder, by R. J. Anderson, was published in 2015 by Atheneum.
In the spell-powered city of Tarreton, the wealthy have all the magic they desire while the working class can barely afford a simple spell to heat their homes. Twelve-year-old Isaveth is poor, but she’s also brave, loyal, and zealous in the pursuit of justice—which is lucky, because her father has just been wrongfully arrested for murder. Isaveth is determined to prove his innocence. Quiz, the eccentric, eyepatch-wearing street boy who befriends her, swears he can’t resist a good mystery. Together, they set out to solve the magical murder of one of Tarreton’s most influential citizens and to save Isaveth’s beloved papa from execution. But each clue is more perplexing than the last. Was the victim really killed by Common Magic—the kind of crude, cheap spell that only an unschooled magician would use—or was his death merely arranged to appear that way? And is Quiz truly helping Isaveth out of friendship, or does he have hidden motives of his own?
While I think A Pocket Full of Murder is highly inventive in some places—the whole idea of baking magic is fascinating and original (at least from what I’ve read)—it suffers from what a lot of middle grade fantasy books suffer from: its world is too big for the length of the book. As a result, a lot of the worldbuilding is dumped all at once, and then the rest comes in random patches, occasionally in places where it’s not even important or relevant. The world is also not incredibly inventive outside of its magical system; the day a middle grade fantasy world of this type doesn’t have a disparity between rich and poor and the main conflict is about the divide between them and the poor wanting equal representation and there’s lots of comments about the rich not caring at all and how evil the rich are, etc., etc. is the day I fall off my chair in shock.
A Pocket Full of Murder also has a maddeningly obvious plot to the point where I could accurately predict what each character would say and how they would react to an event. It’s beyond obvious what Quiz’s secret is; it’s beyond obvious what the villain of the novel would say to Isaveth to get her to stop snooping around; and it’s beyond obvious what the final resolution of the novel will be.
Not only is it maddeningly obvious, it’s also at times unrealistic. The fact that a housekeeper would let a twelve-year-old poke around a study where a murder happened because the twelve-year-old goes all Sherlock Holmes on her is beyond belief. Were we supposed to actually believe that the housekeeper thought a girl would be able to pick up any clues that the police didn’t? Because I didn’t. It read more like “the plot demands this should happen so it will, regardless of whether it’s believable or not.”
A Pocket Full of Murder, while imaginative and fresh in parts, has one of the most predictable plots I’ve read in a while, suffers from uneven worldbuilding and stilted writing, and has a lack of believability during its important moments. In no way did I believe a twelve-year-girl could solve a mystery like this one or come to the conclusions that Isaveth did. It’s a great little uplifting story at face value—the twelve-year-old solves a mystery the incompetent and/or corrupt adults could not—but the whole thing reeked of giant leaps in logic and coincidence and Isaveth connecting random dots correctly and jumping to conclusions that somehow always managed to be partially or fully right. Perhaps some readers might buy its believability—but not me.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Middle Grade
“But I could help.” Quiz followed her down the steps. “I’m good at getting people to talk. I might even be able to find out who discovered the…body.” His voice wavered, but it took him only a second to recover. “Anyway, I want to.”
“Why?” asked Isaveth, turning back to him. “You don’t know my father—you barely even know me. And if you’re trying to make up for yesterday, you’ve already done that several times over. Don’t you have other things to do?”
Quiz reddened and tugged at his eyepatch. “Well, I did say I’m terribly nosy. And I can’t resist a mystery. You must have guessed that ‘Quiz’ is short for ‘inquisitive’?”
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