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12 March 2012 THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage, Dial, May 2012, 324p., ISBN: 978-0-8037-3670-2


“I hope that someone gets my

I hope that someone gets my

I hope that someone gets my

Message in a bottle”



Down in the peaceful little burg of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, there has been a murder.  It’s Mr. Jesse, one of the regulars at the café.  And eleven year-old Mo LoBeau needs to save her best friend and classmate Dale Earnhardt Johnson III from the possibility that circumstantial evidence might lead to Dale’s being falsely accused of the crime:


“I took a deep breath.  ‘Calm down.  We’ll both think.’  He settled into my rocking chair, the one Miss Lana used to rock me to sleep in when I was a baby.  ‘We’ll do like in science with Miss Retzyl,’ I told him.

“’Science,’ he moaned.  ‘I’m doomed.’

“’Remember what she told us.   Define the problem, then solve it.’

“’Right,’ he said.  ‘So the problem is…the electric chair?’  Dale goes dense when scared.  He can’t help it.

“I shook my head.  ‘The problem is, Starr’s headed down the wrong path and you’re standing at the end of it.’  I drummed my fingers against my knee.  ‘We could tell the Colonial or Miss Rose about Mr. Jesse’s boat.  They could talk to Starr.’

“’No,’ he said.  'Starr don’t trust the Colonel, and Mama would kill me.’  That was true.  ‘Maybe Starr will find the real murderer, and get me off the hook.’

“’Possible but not likely,’ I said.  ‘The Colonel says cops can’t figure out much of anything.  And that’s pretty much a quote.’

“He frowned.  ‘Then how come my folks practically got a guest suite at the jail?’

“I decided to let that one go by.  ‘We only got one option,’ I said, leaning forward.  ‘We’ll find Mr. Jesse’s killer ourselves.’

“’Right,’ he said, his voice going sullen.  ‘Like we can out-detective Joe Starr.  That’s nuts, Mo.  I’m doomed.’

“’It’s not nuts, and you’re not doomed.  You’re desperate, is all.  And it’s like Miss Lana says: Desperation is the mother of invention.’

“He looked at me, his face thoughtful. ‘Who’s the daddy?’”


The mystery of who killed Mr. Jesse is but one of the two (or more) mysteries to be solved here.  The second is about Mo.  Reminiscent of her biblical namesake Moses, Mo was discovered by the Colonel, as a baby during a fierce hurricane, floating downstream tied to a makeshift raft, and she has been raised over these eleven years by him and Miss Lana.  Mo periodically sends out messages in bottles in hopes of someday discovering her Upstream Mother and learning from where she had come.


In the manner that Richard Peck and Kate DiCamillo are able to fill a whole town with unique, memorable characters, author Sheila Turnage populates Tupelo Landing with all sorts of quirky saints and sinners.  And now and again, they all seem to end up in the same place at the same time: the café operated by Miss Lana and the Colonel. 


“’You’re lucky you’re not in handcuffs,’ he growled.  ‘It’s illegal to disturb a crime scene.’

“’I didn’t cross your tape,’ I said, brushing my wet hair back from my face.  ‘I came in on the creek, perfectly legal.  You don’t believe me, ask Skeeter, my attorney-in-training.

“Starr grinned.  ‘Funny name for an attorney.’

“I thought so too, but I didn’t like him saying it.  ‘The Colonel says all attorneys should be named for blood-sucking insects so we know up front who we’re dealing with,’ I said.  Starr’s grin widened.  He looks younger when he smiles.  His eyes crinkle, and the side of his mouth dimples.  I could almost see why Miss Retzyl might like him.”


Being that this is a mystery tale, I don’t want to give away much more.  But I’ll say that I particularly adore the character of Dale and the dynamics between him and Mo.  Dale is a small-statured kid with great intuition and a really big heart, the perfect foil for our main character, the young girl who is coming to understand the real meaning of home.


Richie Partington, MLIS
Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.com
Moderator http://groups.yahoo.com/group/middle_school_lit/ 


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