Monday, 23 July 2012

Review: Chasing Vermeer

Title: Chasing Vermeer
Author: Blue Balliett
Illustrator: Brett Helquist
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
Publication Date: June 1st, 2004
Genre: Junior Fiction, Mystery

One night, three identical letters are sent to three unrelated individuals from an anonymous sender, asking for their assistance in righting some wrongs. The writer seems to know these individuals well enough to assume that they’ll help them, but if they show the letter to the police they will be in danger. Meanwhile in Chicago, sixth graders Petra and Calder admire their teacher, who challenges their minds and teaches them to ask questions. When Petra finds an interesting book that tells her that there are no coincidences, she applies that idea to her own life. A lot of peculiar things have begun to happen, and the one thing they seem to have in common is the painting “A Lady Writing” by Johannes Vermeer. When the painting goes missing on its way to the Chicago Institute of Art, Petra and Calder are among the many interested people. As Petra and Calder try to piece together the mystery behind the stolen painting, they will have to take things in to their own hands, even if they’re only eleven years old.

I was really looking forward to this mystery, focusing on a missing Vermeer painting. This book got a fair bit of hype when it came out nearly eight years ago, but I never got around to reading it at the time. Illustrated by Brett Helquist, of A Series of Unfortunate Events fame, I loved the idea of codes being included throughout the story and in the illustrations. The opening reminded me of Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, and I loved the cipher Calder uses to communicate with his friend in New York. All of these things seemed to foreshadow a great mystery, but things seemed to fizzle by the time I was midway through. The characters weren’t entirely convincing, and overall the promising aspects of the plot just didn’t work together. While I kept reading to find out what happened with hopes that my mind would be changed, the ending was unsatisfying. For a mystery, a clever conclusion that ties everything together is pretty important, and Chasing Vermeer was lacking that. Overall, this story failed to impress me and make me want more. To me, a good mystery should have excitement and an “Aha!” moment where everything clicks. Mystery lovers should probably pass on this one, despite how promising it seems.


“The greatest art belongs to the world. Do not be intimidated by the experts. Trust your instincts. Do not be afraid to go against what you were taught, or what you were told to see or believe. Every person, every set of eyes, has the right to the truth.”

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