Wilma Tenderfoot is an apprentice to the great detective, Theodore P. Goodman. She knows little of her past, since she was abandoned at the Lowside Institute for Woeful Children as a baby, but she hopes to use the skills she learns from Dr. Goodman to help uncover the mystery of her own life. In the meantime, she serves as a faithful assistant to Dr. Goodman as he solves various cases around the island of Cooper. In this third book in the series, Wilma and her dog Pickle uncover a mummified body on the property of the Blackheart Mansion. The mummy is holding a key which is supposed to unlock a hidden treasure, but the treasure is guarded by a Fatal Phantom. To make matters worse, Wilma’s enemy, Barbu D’Anvers and several members of the Blackheart family all have different motives for finding the treasure themselves. Who will get there first, and how can Wilma find the evidence she needs to prove the Phantom really does exist?
This is a clever book reminiscent of A Series of Unfortunate Events, but with more characters and British English and fewer vocabulary lessons. Wilma is a plucky, determined heroine who is appealing even when she makes huge errors, and though she is basically the only child character in the book, she holds her own and keeps readers connected to all that is happening. The plot is well thought out, with a couple of twists I never saw coming, and I especially liked the moments when the story drifted into Pickle’s point of view. The ending lines of each chapter, where the narrator offers bits of commentary, are some of my favorite quotations from the book. I normally don’t like books that break the fourth wall in that way, but there is something really enjoyable about reading things like, “Abject terror? Are things about to turn positively PETRIFYING? Let’s hope not, eh?”
I have to confess that for the most part, reading this book was a struggle for me. I can’t find a thing wrong with it - it’s a well-written mystery, with lots of suspense and a couple of real surprises. I think it’s just not my type of book. There are plenty of kids who will dive right into the setting and fall in love with Wilma, but I was overwhelmed by the number of characters and put off by the cutesy word play and silly humor in some sections. I also wished desperately for Wilma to interact more with other kids - it’s hard to relate to a children’s book where most of the characters are adults.
As the book jacket suggests, this book is sure to be a hit with Lemony Snicket’s fans. I think it might also please readers who enjoy Enola Holmes, Gilda Joyce, Nancy Drew, and Ruby Redfort. The Case of the Fatal Phantom is the third book in the series. The first two titles are The Case of the Frozen Hearts and The Case of the Putrid Poison.
I borrowed The Case of the Fatal Phantom from my local public library.