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The Mystery on the Mississippi: Trixie Belden #15    by Kathryn Kenny & Haris Petie order for
Mystery on the Mississippi
by Kathryn Kenny
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2006 (2006)
* *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Bob White club members are invited by Mr. Wheeler to travel to St. Louis on a private airplane, as he heads to Missouri on business at an aircraft manufacturing company. Trixie, Mart, and Brian Belden, along with Honey and Jim Wheeler, as well as Dan Mangan, check into a Memphis hotel, excited about the historical places they will visit. Especially exciting is the possibility of visiting a spacecraft manufacturer, and the possibility of traveling the Mississippi on a paddlewheel boat.

Trixie and Honey begin to settle in their accommodations, when a man gruffly barges into their room, grabs a briefcase the girls had just found in the closet, and storms out the door. In the wastebasket, Trixie finds figures, drawings (including a map of the Mississippi riverbanks), and notations made on sheets of graph paper, that resemble the papers they saw in the briefcase. Trixie stuffs the suspicious papers in her purse. The five friends set off to visit a museum, and a black Mercedes follows them. Thus, the beginnings of The Mystery on the Mississippi.

The five mates book a cruise on towboat (which pushes connected barges vs. pulling them like a tugboat does) named the Catfish Princess, finding that the only paddlewheel which travels the river goes only twice a year, and is on the water for months at a time. The towboat's regular cook has been hospitalized and replaced by Mr. and Mrs Aguilera, at the last moment. Suspicions mount when Mrs. Aguilera offers to take the girls on a tour of the boat. Trixie ponders, 'Now what do you think of that? ... That cook. What is an educated woman like her doing in a job where she has to work so hard?'

While walking on one of the barges, Trixie stumbles over the side, witnessing an odd expression on Mrs. Aguilera's face as she grabs Trixie's purse. Upon return to their cabin, Trixie and Honey find it unlocked and the cabin contents upended. Someone shuts off the cabin light as he/she pushes way to escape through the cabin door, and then jumps overboard.

When the Bob White's disembark at Cairo and the Heartland Motel, they worry that Mr. Wheeler is not there to meet them. The motel operator informs Jim that another person made a call earlier that day to his dad's number. She overheard words to the effect that 'we had decided not to stop at Cairo, but to stay on the Catfish Princes and go on to Memphis instead'! The five friends need to find transport back to St. Louis, and a young man offers to take them on his small boat, since he is going that way, anyway.

All of this is just the beginnings of the drama which unfolds as Trixie almost drowns, they are followed, the Secret Service enters the scene, they run into the Aguileras again, Honey and Trixie are bound and gagged aboard an old paddlewheel, and the waters become more dangerous still. What Trixie and Honey uncover is shocking, and it is a room key that is their savior!

The ship's Captain description of his career - 'It took me three years before I ever got a pilot's license. By that time I knew every inch of the river ... I can even shake hands with the swamp frogs and call 'em by name ... I still miss the churn of the paddle wheels and the lonesome call of a steamboat whistle on a winter night' - adds an educational element to these Trixie Belden creations. This time the author incorporates dock-loading methods, the operation of towboats, how barges are hooked up with steel cables, and the Missouri haunts of famed Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

Haris Petie's grey-tone illustrations and Michael Koelsch's color-cover art lend a special touch to the build-up of tension and suspense. The Trixie Belden mysteries offer choice reads in a classic series.

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