Cliff MacGillivray and Kelly Ward's The Note Hunter: Case of the Haunted Swamp
Children's book review by Steve Barancik
There's this mouse, see. And he's a great piano player. And a terrific detective. And he has perfect pitch.
His client is a billionaire bear who made his fortune in the candy biz. And the bear bought the original transcript of Mozart's little-known "Perfect" Symphony. Only there's a problem, which explains why this symphony is so little-known.
The notes are missing. They escaped.
So begins a truly colorful middle grades book, which reads like an excellent novelization of a Disney/Pixar movie...one that hasn't been made...yet.
When he's not engaged in mystery-solving, Manhattanite T.W. Strouse (the mouse) tickles the ivories as an accompanist for Bertha, an elephant chanteuse.
(Okay, under those circumstances, perhaps I shouldn't have said, "tickling the ivories.")
He's just finished a show with Bertha when he gets the call from Hollingsworth, the billionaire bear. There's reason to believe that the strange noises coming from a Louisiana swamp may in fact be some of Mozart's runaway notes.
And so begins the Note Hunter's, i.e. Strouse's, Case of the Haunted Swamp.
As the mystery unravels, we learn that a bunch of hep cats (who are, of course, cats) have been gathering in the bayou for a jazz scat-singing festival. And eight of Mozart's missing notes happen to be major scat fans.
They appear as giant fireflies with expressive faces. They're gold-colored, because all this magic began when Mozart decided to write his Perfect Symphony in gold ink.
Strouse's journey finds him meeting a cast of highly individuated animal characters, including
There is danger a-plenty, as the snack-sized detective encounters creatures who tend to care less about his taste in music and more about what they think he would taste like.
But the consequences always seem cartoonish (and please know that I only mean that in a good way). There's never any doubt that our cocky detective is going to get out of this adventure alive and with his brainy reputation intact.
There is one "tinny" note to an otherwise terrific story.
Mozart's missing notes are depicted as fully sentient, fully in keeping with a story populated with talking animal characters, so there's no problem there. However...
Because the notes are seemingly living beings, plotting their capture and subsequent imprisonment in the Wolfgang Mozart Perfect Symphony Holding Case does seem a bit heartless. When the authors tell us, "They seemed happy to be home," it seems a bit too little and too late.
It's a small quibble though. The authors deliver an entertaining middle grades mystery with elegant (and challenging) prose, and lush descriptions of setting and action that, along with 50 or so high-quality illustrations, really render the world of the mouse detective clearly and cinematically in the mind's eye.
Which is probably no coincidence. Authors MacGillivray and Ward have extensive Hollywood credits, as does illustrator Mendez, who has done major work for Disney and Hanna-Barbera and has an expressive, comic touch.
One gets the feeling, in reading the book, that a script and storyboards are likely already in the works.
Which, to my mind, is the right order in which to go about things (at least judging by the cruddy quality of Disney based-on-the-animated-feature picture books that I've seen).
And there are six more books in the series, so you can get a kid hooked and keep him/her reading. After all, there are a lot more notes to find from that Perfect Symphony!
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