Margi Preus – Enchantment Lake

preus_enchantment coverWhat’s wild in the northwoods turns out to be mostly human, when seventeen-year-old Francie is drawn into the strange mysteries threatening her great aunts’ Minnesota Up North world.

On the shores of Enchantment Lake in the woods of northern Minnesota, something ominous is afoot, and as seventeen-year-old Francie begins to investigate, the mysteries multiply: a poisoned hot dish, a puzzling confession, eerie noises in the bog, and a legendary treasure said to be under enchantment—or is that under Enchantment, as in under the lake?

Margi Preus’ latest novel Enchantment Lake is a departure from her previously published books as it is a YA mystery novel and not historical fiction. I’d read and loved her Shadow on the Mountain, a WWII novel set in Norway, so I was interested to see her take on the mystery narrative. And I wasn’t disappointed; Enchantment Lake is a fun, adventurous romp of a story, which very much evoked the atmosphere of classic YA detective novels such as  The Famous Five and Nancy Drew, but updated to our own time. 

The detective on roster for this story is Francie, short for Francesca. In fact, Francie isn’t actually a detective, she only played one on TV, but everyone in Enchantment Lake, Minnesota – with a little encouragement of her aunts – believes she is an actual detective and treats her accordingly. I loved this conceit, as Preus exploits it to the utmost and Francie’s eventual resignation to the situation and her giving up on trying to explain that actually no she isn’t a detective, she’s an actress was very funny. I also liked how later on in the book she utilises her ‘fake’ experience to figure out what to do next; it’s a creative twist on life imitates art that I enjoyed.

Francie is an interesting character. An orphan for all intents and purposes – her father drowned in an accident when she was in her early teens and she never knew who her mother was and whether she is still alive – she’s being raised by her grandfather, but lives on her own in New York pursuing her career as an actress. Even while trying to figure out who is behind these suspicious deaths around the lake, Francie never forgets her dream of making it as an actress, pursuing every opportunity to get an in with industry professionals. I liked her tenacity in this regard. It is a tenacity that is reflected in her investigation into the weird events in Enchantment Lake. The other thing that stood out about Francie’s character were her unresolved feelings about her parents, her grief over losing her father and the nagging conviction that his death somehow wasn’t accidental and the huge question mark that is her mother. I actually hope there will be more answers about these two mysteries in the next book, because while Francie solves the mystery behind the murders, these don’t get answered.

The murders that draw Francie back to Enchantment Lake are only one of the clues to the mystery of Enchantment Lake. Francie, drawing upon her reputation as a detective, even if unearned, quickly dives into the investigation aided by some unexpected characters. I especially loved Nels, the summer intern at the local lawyer’s office, who is not just dashingly handsome, he’s also a dab hand in a tight spot. The chemistry between Francie and Nels was lovely, though never overstated. And Francie’s great-aunts and grandfather were amazing. I loved these eccentric parental figures to Francie and the genuine love and affection between all of them was wonderful to read.

Enchantment Lake was a lovely read, with a fun heroine who has a strong, humorous voice. Preus packs a lot into this actually slim book and its pages just flew by. I really hope we’ll see more of Francie’s adventures in the future and learn more about her parents. If you like old school YA detectives then this book should be right up your alley.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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