I was excited to receive The Law of Three: A Sarah Martin Mystery, a new young adult novel by Caroline Rennie Pattison. I have always enjoyed mysteries, and amassed a large collection of Trixie Belden mysteries as a kid I was loathe to give up. I nostalgically read all the Encyclopedia Brown books to my daughters, and one or two Nancy Drews. As I was reading them, though, I noticed that so much was out of date: the expectations of girls/young women, the freedoms allowed children, technology, and the language used in the stories. I had to stop periodically and edit or explain the content of the book. I was looking for a mystery aimed at the tween/young adult age that was current.
I found a wonderful modern-day mystery in The Law of Three. Sarah Martin is our strong-willed, lively narrator and the daughter of a police detective in the small town of Muskoka, Ontario. She’s a newcomer (her family moved to the town in her first book – The Whole, Entire, Complete Truth: A Sarah Martin Mystery), and is still trying to find her place in the high school. She has a slightly older brother, some new friends, and is learning who everyone is in town and in her classes. Pattison writes characters who sound just like real teenagers, without making you squirm at your own memories of that age. As an added bonus, the parents aren’t perfect or stereotyped either!
Mysteries told in the first person have an added dose of realism, it feels as if we are observing what’s happening, and picking up the clues beside our 9th grade detective. Pattison has written the book so it is read as entries from Sarah’s detective journal, complete with dates and locations! The storyline of The Law of Three starts when Sarah has to pick up some dropped books in the hall, a girl trips over her, and then threatens her. Sarah soon finds out that Garnet Hopper (as well as her brother Byron and her parents) are the focus of a myriad of rumors – did Garnet drown another teenager two years ago? What is the secret about their family: Do they curse people? Are they in the Mafia? Witness protection plan? Devil-worshippers? Sarah wants to find out, and starts using her detective skills to learn the truth.
As Sarah tries to find out what is going on with the Hopper family, she unexpectedly makes a new friend, has her current friends turn their backs on her (for a short time), finds out about the Wiccan religion, and tries to help locate a missing teenager. The themes in The Law of Three are more timely than in older mysteries – religious tolerance and the world of runaways and abductions are very different now. I was very impressed at how well-researched the novel was, and the way that Pattison shares that information with the reader without it sounding dry; we read Sarah’s notes after she’s researched something, complete with her thoughts on the topics.
Pattison has created a really unique character in Sarah: she jumps to conclusions, but also looks up everything online, and she has a passion for discovering the truth. I really enjoyed the character of Sarah, while she has her faults, she is a very strong girl, and one who pushes against peer pressure. The secondary characters are also very well-rounded, with each one having unique traits. Additionally, while Sarah’s father is a police detective, he doesn’t share confidential information about cases with her, and he has a very realistic feel. I kept giggling at the antics of Sarah’s mother’s new pet – a pot-bellied pig named Amber, a choice that sets her mom apart from any other mom I’ve read in this genre!
The Law of Three was hard to put down and incredibly engrossing (I finished it in a day), plus it had a mystery that kept me thinking until the end of the story. Residents of small towns are often distrustful of someone who is different, and that feeling is magnified for the Hoppers. So much of the novel felt real, and perhaps some of that is because Pattison lives in the real Muskoka, Ontario. She has a wonderful touch writing teenagers that sound like real teenagers, not like TV characters or bland stereotypes – everyone has a depth to them. The world inside Muskoka high school also rings true, from cliques to Sarah’s problems understanding Geography.
It takes a deft writer to make a book feel real and enticing, and Pattison has accomplished that in The Law of Three. I recommend it for the 10-15 age range, with the note that there is some discussion of kissing and crushes. If you have boys, don’t automatically rule this out – several of the important characters are boys, and the main character is a very strong girl, The Law of Three should appeal to both genders. This is a book that’s going on my shelf for my girls; it’s not being loaned out!
This book was received from the publisher for review