This book is the first in a series of four that introduces a young reader to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries of Sherlock Holmes via Sherlock's great great grandchildren, Xena and Xander. Although written at a preteen level, this book (as well as the other three sequels) is very well written and was enjoyed by a 73 year old grandpa who loved Sherlock Holmes mysteries as a kid.
I would have loved this book when I was a tween/teen but my kids thought the action was unrealistic and the characters too goody-goody. The story involves siblings Xena and Xander Holmes, who are visiting London with their parents; while there they discover that they are indeed descendants of Sherlock Holmes and they've inherited his book of unsolved cases. In this first outing they search for a missing painting and use deductive reasoning to discern its location. The mystery is interesting and the reasoning are plausible.
Whenever I read Encyclopedia Brown I think of those bathroom books - you know, the ones with the five minute mysteries and logic puzzles. I think the Brown books are great at introducing the idea of deductive reasoning, but because of their episodic nature they really don't work too well as sustained works of fiction. That's why my hat is off to Ms. Barrett for this series.
Think how hard it is to come up with a decent mystery, and reasonable characters, in a short book intended for younger readers. Well, these Sherlock Holmes Files books probably come as close to pulling that off as can be expected. The sibling protagonists are appealing, and the usual sibling rivalry/teasing is kept to a minimum. Secondary characters are stock, but fairly effective. Everyone is very cheerful and helpful, and clues do just sort of poke out here and there, but I'm not sure there's anything you can do about that. The Sherlock Holmes connection adds a nice dash of color, and the references to actual Holmes stories will probably amuse adults who are helping or are reading to the youngsters.
So, if your reader likes hidden secret type mysteries, or if you want to try one out, this is a perfectly fine place to start.
Purchased this as one of a group of books requested by a 10 year old. She finished it in a few hours and was very dissapointed as she felt it was written for much younger kids and boring. I looked at it myself and have to agree that there is no challenge here; might be good to read with your children from ages 4 to 8 - I agree that anyone older would be bored. The writing is decent, but the book stoops down instead of challenging up - solutions to "mysteries" are easy and obvious. So definitely for the younger set. I would recommend the Enola Holmes mysteries by Nancy Springer as being infinitely superior to this for children 8 and up.