Like my first pick (see the July 1 post), The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart is our second visit with a group of four children. Best friends since their first adventure, three out of four are, or were, orphans, and all strikingly intelligent in their individual ways. Reynie has great insight into people. Sticky possesses a photographic memory and can quote endless passages after seeing them once. Kate can accomplish any physical feat with her amazing speed, strength, and well-stocked bucket, and Constance seems perhaps a step behind them all -- until we find out she is three. In the first volume, the kindly but odd Mr. Benedict called on them to help save the world from evil in the form of his own identical twin brother, and in the process each of the orphans found a home. The present story opens with the children eager to reunite with each other and Mr. Benedict after a well-deserved vacation. Mr. B has devised a world-wide scavenger hunt to entertain and challenge them. Trouble is, they barely make it to Mr. B's house before they find out he's been kidnapped, raising the stakes far beyond a mental exercise. Is the evil twin at it again? Can there be any doubt?
Some books with a rollicking plot skimp on character development. Not this one. Each character takes another step forward in growth. Reynie must decide if his accurate hunches about people's motives will turn him cynical. Sticky learns to rein in his tendency to show off by reciting way more than anyone wants to know. Kate struggles with the idea that the one person in the world who is a better spy than she is her father, and up to now she's always called her own shots. And Constance, not quite the eternal crabpatch she was since emerging from the terrible twos, begins to get along with people and even to love them -- and to find out she can somehow predict events before they happen. Another strength is this book's ability to be tongue-in-cheek, over the top -- for example, Mr. Benedict's faithful assistant is a pencil-thin woman with a tuft of reddish-brown hair who wears yellow clothes and is called Number Two -- yet our willingness to suspend disbelief is never in question.
Though the last third of the book slows down compared to the first two-thirds, the puzzles, feats, ingenuity, quirkiness, and good-old-fashioned adventure combine to make a rousing tale.