The Case of the Vanishing Villain by Carol Farley, 1986
As you can see, my copy of this book has been … well-loved.
This is the first book in a series about two sisters, Flee Jay (short for Felice Jennifer) and Clarice Saylor. Twelve-year-old Flee Jay wants to be a detective, just like in the books she’s read, but her pretty younger sister is a child genius who has more aptitude for it. Clarice is somewhat eccentric for a ten-year-old, but she is also intelligent and logical and has a memory for details and obscure facts. Throughout the series, the two of them kind of compete to solve mysteries. Although Clarice usually comes up with the solution before Flee Jay, it usually takes the two of them together to get to the bottom of things because Flee Jay is an average kid who behaves like an average kid and helps Clarice understand how average people behave.
The story begins with an explanation and a request for help from Flee Jay. She and her genius younger sister, Clarice, were taking an early morning ferry from Michigan to Wisconsin to visit their grandparents when a series of strange events connected with an escaped convict took place. Clarice managed to solve the mystery, but Flee Jay wants readers to go through the events as they happened to see whether any normal person could have solved the mystery like Clarice did.
From that point on, Flee Jay describes what took place from the moment they arrived at the ferry until just before the ferry docked at its destination. She introduces all of the strange passengers on the ferry, including a family of three women who may have unwittingly brought the convict on board, a woman with an annoying barking dog, a bearded man with a guilty secret, and the overly-attentive ship’s steward, Mr. Woolsey, who is keeping an eye on the girls during the trip.
From the moment that Flee Jay learns about the escaped convict from Clarice, who “accidentally” overhears the police and Mr. Woolsey talking about him through a vent while standing in the sink in the ladies’ room next to his office, Flee Jay wants to be the one to find him. At first, they don’t really know whether he’s on the boat or not, but when the boat is underway, a woman screams that there was a strange man in her stateroom, and then, they’re pretty sure. Flee Jay and Clarice take it upon themselves to consider all the hiding places and to question the other passengers. Of course, Clarice produces the solution to the puzzle, but she does credit Flee Jay with inspiring her. According to Flee Jay, she just figured things out because she’s nosy.
Join eccentric 10-year-old genius Clarice and her long-suffering sister as they try to put the pieces together to keep the convict from getting away right under the noses of the authorities!
The book is written with humor and is fun to read. The clues fit together neatly, and the black-and-white pictures, list of characters, and map of the inside of the ferry help readers understand the action.