I first heard of Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans over at 5 Minutes for Books where it earned the distinction of being a “5 Star Read.” In fact, I won my copy of the book from 5 Minutes for Books, so I am doubly indebted to 5 Minutes for turning me onto this book. Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is part mystery and part magic, as the title indicates. It’s the story of Stuart Horten, whose abbrieviated name S. Horten is quite unfortunate since he is, indeed, short, to the point of being mistaken for being much younger than he is. The story begins with his family moving to his dad’s hometown of Beeton, England, since it is close to his mom’s job and his dad, a crossword puzzle creator, can do his job anywhere. His parents are “extremely clever,” but since “clever people aren’t always sensible,” they are a little dense as far as Stuart is concerned. (Case in point: what parents don’t consider what their kids’ initials will spell?) Stuart stumbles upon an interesting family story in Beeton: his father’s Uncle Tony had been a magician–a real magician!–who just disappeared on day. In Beeton, Stuart begins a mysterious journey to uncover what happened to Uncle Tony, although to say that Stuart is doing the looking wouldn’t be entirely accurate. It’s more like he’s mysteriously pulled along into solving the mystery one step at a time. It begins when his father tells him that the money box in which he keeps his paper clips was given to him by Uncle Tony. This commonplace money box turns out not to be a money box after all, but rather a magician’s trick box with a false bottom which Stuart’s dad never even had the imagination to notice. (See? Clever but not sensible.) Stuart manages the trick of opening it and out fall eight threepenny bits. These coins are the beginning of Stuart’s journey, since Uncle Tony also owned a company that manufactured coin operated machines. Stuart’s task then becomes finding various old machines around town into which he can put his threepenny bits, with the expected result that he will receive some sort of clue. Also involved in the story are a set of triplet girls that write a neighborhood newspaper, a blind woman who actually knew Uncle Tony and might know something about his disappearance, and a duo of magicians who are anxious to get whatever it is that Stuart has that will get them to the bottom of the mystery first. This book is pure entertainment and well-written, a combination I don’t take lightly. It reminds me of several books I’ve enjoyed, each for a different reason: The Mysterious Benedict Society because it’s about a smart and quirky boy solving a mystery; When You Reach Me because, well, I can’t really tell you or it would sort of spoil the mystery 😉 ; The Invention of Hugo Cabret because of the non-American setting and the whole machines theme; and Joan Bauer’s novels (Close to Famous is the last one I read) because of the quirky, bumbling characters, particularly the villains.
I think this one would make a great Cybils nominee, although I think it might be ineligible because it was published in Great Britain last year under the title Small Change for Stuart. (It was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.) Its sequel, Horten’s Incredible Illusions (review here), has already been published. I want to read it, but given my dismal track record with sequels, don’t hold your breath. 🙂 Maybe you should read them both and tell me what you think! (Sterling, 2012)