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The Code Busters Club, Case #1: The Secret of the Skeleton Key Paperback – October 9, 2012
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"This first of a series delivers a splendid story of four youths on a code-breaking spree.
Cody and her three buddies comprise an exclusive club revolving around studying and creating codes. It's all in fun, but things amp up to intense when Cody and Quinn spy two lurking strangers at Mr. Skelton's creepy old house. Cody awakens the next morning to find Mr. Skelton's house in flames and an ambulance taking him to the hospital. Cody then notices symbols drawn on an upstairs windowpane. As the club members investigate the charred house and each new clue leads to the next, they find cryptic messages that lead them repeatedly to one of Mr. Skelton's many cats and possibly to hidden treasure. Moreover, the strangers, calling themselves cousins of Mr. Skelton, are clearly looking for something in the old man's house and begin to appear capable of treachery well beyond robbery. Adding depth to an already smart, fast-paced mystery, a resonant back story reveals that Cody's parents have recently divorced and that her little sister is deaf. Readers are active participants in the momentum and are frequently invited to solve classic forms of code, such as Morse and semaphores.
This intriguing tale has vivid characters and such a tantalizing cliffhanger that the readers won't be able to resist cracking the next Code Busters." ―Kirkus Reviews
"This clever novel introduces the members of the Code Busters Club―Cody, Quinn, Luke, and M.E.―as they take on the task of solving a mystery surrounding the reclusive Mr. Skelton, whose house catches on fire the night after Cody and Quinn spot him in an upstairs window signaling for help. The foursome begins a seemingly hopeless search for information and end up uncovering a clue hidden behind a framed certificate, which leads them to another, and to another, until finally they piece it all together. Add in a couple of shady distant cousins who keep showing up wherever the club members are, rumors of large amounts of money hidden in the house, and the tremendous likability of kids gifted with decoding and detection skills and you've got a great story and a solid setup for a series. Throughout the narrative, clues and information are presented in code and cipher―Morse code, American Sign Language fingerspelling, semaphores, Braille, Caesar's cipher―and readers are invited to decode the statements and check the back of the book for the answer. This serves to add interest for a whole new crowd of readers who will find the interactive element very appealing. The villains are deeply villainous, the heroes remarkably heroic, and the plot, while a bit of a stretch, is a whole lot of fun. The final pages point to a second installment set on Alcatraz Island; expect requests upon return of this volume." ―The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books(Journal)
About the Author
Penny Warner’s middle-grade mystery, The Mystery of the Haunted Caves, won an Agatha Award and an Anthony Award in 2002 for Best Juvenile Mystery. Her books have received excellent reviews and have been printed in fourteen countries throughout the world.
Warner lives in Danville, California. Visit her online at www.pennywarner.com.
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The Code Busters Club by Penny Warner (YA)
This is the first in a mystery series. Four young adults form a club where they pass secret messages written in code back and forth. Their neighbor, whom they call Skeleton Man, is taken to the hospital after his house catches fire. But was it an accidental fire or set by his newly arrived family members? The kids decide to investigate.
This book was a good mystery and used the codes in an interesting way to move the plot along. I could see readers who liked solving codes really enjoying this book. There are two male and two female protagonists so I think both male and female readers would be drawn to this book. It was a good, quick read.
Cody and her three friends, Quinn, Luke, and M.E., have formed a club dedicated to learning codes, giving each other codes to crack, and solving mysteries. And a mystery is just what they’ve found when Quinn and Cody observe some strangers in a neighbor’s house. Mr. Skelton lives alone and creates weird yard art. So why are there suddenly two other people in Mr. Skelton’s house? Cody observes mysterious symbols in his window. And then his house catches on fire. What’s going on?
I can easily see this book capturing the imagination of any kid who reads it. Most of the chapters feature a code that the characters use to communicate with each other or to piece together the next part of the mystery. The solution to the code is given at the end of the book along with lots of information on the codes discussed. That way, you can use the codes with your own friends once you’ve finished the book. What kid could resist?
The mystery is very well done. The codes provide the steps needed to propel the characters toward the solution. And what a great solution we wind up with at the end of the book. This book will keep readers turning pages until they reach the end.
The characters are typical for a middle grade series – which means that adults will find them a little thin. Cody is the one we get to know the best since we follow her third person point of view for the entire book. However, this is a complaint only adults will have. Based on my own reading as a kid, I know that kids will love these characters.
At 200 pages, this is a fast read, but the codes at the end will provide hours of entertainment for kids when they are done learning The Secret of the Skeleton Key.