The first few Sammy Keyes books are shorter and have a younger-skewing audience than the later books, so I will review them in pairs.
In Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief, Sammy pulls an all-time Sammy move. While bored in the Senior Highrise, she starts looking around town with her grandmother’s binoculars. She sees a robbery in progress, and when the robber sees her watching, she decides to wave. In the book’s subplot Sammy starts middle school.
In Sammy Keyes and the Skeleton Man, Sammy is involved in a multi-element mystery when an attempt to knock on the door of a spooky town manor on Halloween involves putting out a fire and saving a man’s life. Middle school life takes a turn for the worst and Sammy crashes Heather’s post-Halloween party to get the upper hand.
It is weird to me that The Hotel Thief is the first and only Sammy Keyes book to win an award (that I know of). In comparison to the rest, a lot of this book is nonsense. I love Sammy’s classic “wave at the robber” move, and the Heather conflict begins as most middle school conflicts do: for no reason at all. The characters introduced are pretty great. At the same time, however, a lot of this book is weird. Why establish that Grams doesn’t like Hudson when they become pals in the middle of the book? Why is this the only book (that I remember) where Hudson has a renter in his garage? Why does Grams have such ridiculously good binoculars? Like for real…are they military grade?
Plus, there is the confusing Oscar timeline. The robberies start shortly before the book does, but Sammy implies Oscar has been around long enough that all citizens of Santa Martina know how to talk to him. But then they mention a parole officer was looking for him, as if he had only been missing for a short period of time. Did criminal Oscar kill the real Oscar? Nonsense aside, I still enjoy this book a lot. When I first read Sammy Keyes, I did not start this series from the beginning, so coming back to this after reading several of the later books was really fun.
The Skeleton Man is my favorite Early Era book. The mystery involves old, priceless books. What more could I ask for? The Borsch-Sammy conflict is also pretty great. Having another officer in the mix willing to believe Sammy over Borsch was a stroke of genius. Better yet, this book has one of the best Heather showdowns in the series. From “befriending” Heather while undercover at her party to the subtle instigation of Heather at the end of book principal-parent conference, every aspect of this showdown was awesome. The auditorium fiasco continues to be mentioned throughout the series. It also helps with the Casey introduction in book five. It would be impossible for Casey to forget the name of the girl who humiliated his sister in front of the entire school.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about these two books is how much of the plot I remembered before re-reading. I don’t read these two as often as some of the others, so I thought I would forget more. Either way, these two were fun to read again. A solid start to a somewhat cheesy but awesome series.