The Mastermind Plot by Angie Frazier – Review

Book Jacket:

Suzanna “Zanna” Snow can hardly believe her luck: She’s just arrived in Boston, the city she’s wanted to visit for as long as she can remember. Think of all the mysteries waiting to be solved here!

Her grandmother and cousin, Will, welcome her warmly, but her famous detective uncle, Bruce Snow, seems anything but pleased. He doesn’t want Zanna meddling in his current case involving a string of mysterious warehouse fires along the harbor front. But Zanna can’t help herself. Is someone setting the fires? Just when she thinks she’s on to something, a strange man starts following her. Is he a threat? Zanna needs to solve the case before she has the chance to find out.

You can read an excerpt here.


Suzanna Snow proves her mettle once again in The Mastermind Plot – and though the plot of this story may not quite live up to its Mastermind title, it still makes for a very solid Middle Grade mystery.

I do so love stories of plucky young slueths, and Suzanna Snow is a character more than worthy of the title. I very much enjoyed Suzanna’s gumption as she snooped, sneaked, and solved, and her perfectly pitched blend of canny and innocent, of cadgey and transparent, was wonderful to behold. Zanna really is just fun to watch.

As for the story itself – well, if you haven’t read the first book, I think you’ll be able to sit down and thoroughly enjoy this one for exactly what it is. But if you come to The Mastermind Plot as an established Zanna fan, as I did, you’ll find a story that doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor. This is a solid book, with an interesting mystery, but in terms of character detail, plot, and setting, it just isn’t quite up to the level of The Midnight Tunnel.

Here’s what I missed, this time around: I did terribly miss the distinct personalities of the first book. The Midnight Tunnel had such a wonderfully colorful pool of suspects – from crabby cooks to lying maids to spoiled rich brats, each and every one was distinct, and each and every one had something seething beneath the surface. This time around, there just wasn’t that same character depth – Grandma wasn’t particular memorable, Will and Bruce felt rather caricature-ish, and Adele never really developed much of a personality at all, aside from being rude. The most interesting new character by far was the mysterious man following Zanna – and given how little page time he had, I think that really speaks volumes as to how vague the rest were. The cast of the first book was just so much more interesting.

The second thing I missed was the atmosphere of the first book. The resort setting of The Midnight Tunnel was so wonderfully remote, and so very detailed – from the taxidermy on the walls to the servants’ stair, from the telephone that required an operator to the scoldings Zanna got for her disreputable state of wardrobe, there was just such a vibrant sense of time and place. Which is why I was so disappointed when The Mastermind Plot – a story that takes place in Boston, a city teaming with history – never bothered to develop its surroundings. Honestly, we never really get a feel for the city at all – the famous Brownstones are nodded at, as is the city’s Irish population, but that’s it. The atmosphere, the ambiance, that sense of time and place – it just wasn’t there this time around.

Thirdly, and most of all, I found myself missing the wealth of clues, such as the first book had. The Midnight Tunnel was a true cozy mystery in how in presented an array of odd happenings and suspicious behavior, and then carefully pieced them together to reveal the whodunit. I really, really enjoyed the small touches – the shoes left on the beach, the mysterious light – that added up to such a delicious sense of mystery. The Mastermind Plot, in comparison, is a much more straightforward, and much simpler, story – frankly the clues thunk when they land. This story was really more about the adventure – Zanna climbing out of windows and running through parks – than the clues, and it added up to a mystery with less heft. It did all come together in a satisfying way, but I still couldn’t help but wish for more mystery to the mystery.

And yet for all of that, I’m still doing the reverse of damning with faint praise – I’m praising by critiquing, because this kind of critique can really only happen when the baseline quality is high. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – this is a good book. I don’t have to talk about how Suzanna was an unbelievable protagonist, because she was utterly true to her age. I didn’t have to say I got bored with the plot, because I didn’t, not even close – I was completely caught up with the mysterious fires and thefts, and I particularly loved how the investigation delved into Zanna’s family history (though I’m still a bit miffed that Bruce’s notebooks never paid off in some way). The final reveal of the dastardly villain was fun, and while I do wish the grande finale had owed a bit more to Zanna’s detecting and a bit less to someone handing her the solution with a bow attached, I still all in all found this book to be rock solid. But I will say this: overall, this book felt a little more typically Middle Grade to me – the danger was less dangerous, the clues simpler and easier, and the characters broader. But as far as Middle Grade mysteries go, it’s still a very good one.

So in the end, yes, I did enjoy this book. It may not have been quite as intriguing as its predecessor, but The Mastermind Plot still had more than enough to it to keep me involved – and yes, I will definitely be back for the next Suzanna Snow mystery. Here’s hoping this series continues for a good long while to come.

Byrt Grade: B+/A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

Set among Boston’s staid brownstones in 1904, the suspenseful plot unfolds from Zanna’s first-person perspective, punctuated by her pithy observations. Fans of Suzanna Snow’s first mystery will cheer her latest adventure.

Hoover Public Library Kids and Teens on Goodreads say:

This is number two in the series, but you don’t have to read the first one to enjoy it. An excellent mystery, especially if you like plucky girl detectives.