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The Secrets of Belltown: A Belltown Mystery #1    by Ted M. Murphy order for
Secrets of Belltown
by Ted M. Murphy
Order:  USA  Can
J. N. Townsend, 2001 (1996)
* *   Reviewed by Anise Hollingshead

Orville Jacques has a few problems. He really likes Maria, but guess what, so does his best friend. To complicate matters, he hasn't told Maria how he feels. Then there's the little issue of an escaped mental patient who's out to get him because Orville saw him sneaking out of the house where someone died the night before.....

Orville is a typical sixteen year old boy. He's interested in girls, but still likes to play daily games of wiffle ball with his best friend. He is also very inquisitive and has no hesitation in questioning adults' assumptions that all is as it appears. When a reclusive old lady dies from a supposed accident with an appliance in her tub, Orville has his doubts. His investigation leads him to delve into Belltown's best kept secrets and exposes hypocrisy and greed under the seemingly normal small-town exterior.

The Secrets of Belltown is the first in a series of juvenile mysteries aimed at the middle reader crowd. The protagonist is a likeable teenager who relates his adventures in first person, reminiscent of Archie Goodwin's reporting in the Nero Wolfe mysteries. The dialogue is humorous and entirely believable, probably due to the author's association with teens in his creative writing classes.

The only caveat I had with this book was its treatment of an account of family abuse. I had no problem with the unpleasant behavior of the bad guy in the story, since it fit his character. However, someone portrayed sympathetically by the author exhibited disturbing behaviors which seemed to me incongruous. While teen readers could handle this, I would recommend parental discussion of the actions of this individual (and how they should color our judgement of that person) with any pre-teen readers.

Despite this one reservation, I enjoyed reading about Orville's adventures and had a few chuckles as I recognized several thoughts and actions that could have been modeled on my own sixteen year old son's life. Mystery, danger and humor are successfully combined into an interesting tale that is sure to please most readers.

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