fiction favorites…Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms

Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery &  A Very Strange Adventure, by Lissa Evans
(originally published in the UK as Small Change for Stuart)

Stuart had seen the box almost every day of his life, though he’d never taken much notice of it…As soon as he got back from the walk, Stuart ran upstairs to get it.  It was cylindrical and made of tin, painted with a pattern of red and blue interlocking rings, although half the paint had worn away so that crescents of bright metal showed between the colors.  He flipped open the hinged lid, tipped out the paper clips, and looked into the empty tin.  He didn’t know what he’d expected to see, but there was nothing, just a blank, shiny interior….He put the lid back on again and weighed the tin in his hand.  The bottom felt heavier than the top. “It’s a trick box,” he declared, with sudden certainty.  “Great-Uncle Tony was a magician, and he gave you a puzzle to solve.”
“Sorry?” said his father. “Did you just say something? I lost the thread…”
Stuart stopped what he was doing.  The thread.  It was a word with two meanings: not just a piece of cotton, but a spiral path, cut into metal.
Cautiously, he started to turn the bottom of the tin the other way — and it opened in one smooth movement.  He was so startled that he dropped both pieces, and suddenly there were coins all over the floor, gold coins (a sort of dull gold, anyway), bouncing all over the place.

Stuart Horten is a 10-year-old boy who has just moved to a new town with his highly-intelligent, but not-quite-sensible parents, which has him dreading a dull summer without friends.  However, one day his dad casually tells Stuart about  Great Uncle Tony, who used to live in this very town and who was — get this– a magician!   And furthermore, this magician-uncle just up and disappeared 50 years ago, no one knows where!  And besides all that, this Great-Uncle Tony left his father a present — a little box.  Stuart’s dad uses it to store paper clips. 

It turns out the box isn’t the only thing Uncle Tony left behind.  He’s also left  some highly unusual coins, a mind-boggling mystery, a top-secret workshop where his fabulous, ingenuous mechanisms are stored, and a series of incredibly clever clues.  It’s up to Stuart to somehow follow those clues and find the marvelous, intricate, stupendous mechanical devices crafted by his uncle.  To Stuart’s annoyance, the triplets next door — April, May, and June — are not about to let him track this alone.  However, as there’s also a sinister someone plotting his ruin, it’s just as well to have some plucky quest-mates.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure mystery filled with amazing contraptions, intrepid friends, and clever twists and turns.  The word-loving dad in the story introduces an element of attention to words and their meanings, which also comes to play as Stuart puzzles out the cryptic clues.  The triplets are a humorous riot of perseverance and true grit.  Telephone booths and bandstands, carousels and  toffee dispensers, are all part of the breathless action as Stuart races the bad-guy to solve the mystery first.

Fantastic read for ages 9 and up, and a read-aloud bound to produce begging for one more chapter from stout listeners as young as 6.  It was first published in the UK a year ago and a sequel is due out already this fall; not sure when that will make its way to us in the U.S. 

Here’s an Amazon link:  Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure