Isn’t the imagination a wonderful thing in children? You never know what they will concoct to entertain themselves and to impress — or perhaps confound — others.

Take for your consideration 12-year-old Nathaniel Jones, the protagonist in Kraig Dafoe’s fast-paced and exhilarating middle-grade thriller The Mystery at Turkelton Manor. Detective work is in Nathaniel’s blood; his father was a police detective and his grandfather — on his father’s side — was a noted private investigator for 50 years.

So when Nathaniel is sent to his maternal grandparents for summer vacation, where Grandpa William is caretaker on the rolling Turkelton Manor estate, he puts his instincts right to use when he hears late-night sounds lurking and suspects foul play. As Nathaniel scrapes together loose pieces of evidence more fit for kid’s play than a jury, he becomes convinced there’s a plot to steal valuable paintings from the Turkeltons. His ear picks up innuendos from one of the construction workers renovating the mansion — the kind of words that keep Nathaniel singularly focused on his prime suspect.

DISCRETION IS KEY IN THIS TURKELTON MYSTERY

Nathaniel has learned his “craft” well. He takes to searching old newspapers and online articles with the hope of uncovering a trend in the Turkeltons’ well-to-do neighborhood. 

All this is troublesome to Grandpa William, who, given his position as well as his grandfatherly wisdom, is not a fan of Nathaniel’s snooping around. In fact, William keeps Nathaniel busy with daily chores, not so much to distract but to teach him the value of hard work. 

Taking the hint from Grandpa’s responses, the young boy is guarded about what he communicates and who he lets in on his theories. He certainly doesn’t tell Lord and Lady Turkelton, but slowly lets in their children, Robert and Rebecca, with whom he becomes friends.

Dafoe introduces a cast of characters with enough motives to fill a game of Clue but whose words and actions don’t condemn them of anything … yet. No one is above suspicion, from the workers around the Turkeltons’ renovation-in-progress to a local art dealer, an art authenticator and, of course, anyone or anything that Nathaniel thinks he hears on the grounds in the wee hours.

AN AUTHENTIC MIDDLE-GRADE PROTAGONIST

Dafoe, with five children of his own, has a knack for capturing the character of a middle-grade boy with middle-grade thoughts, ideas and actions. Nathaniel is an introvert who has trouble making friends until he bonds with the Turkelton siblings and they pursue adventure together. There’s even a hint of that first blush boys often display at the mere suggestion that they have an attraction to a young girl.

The plot is swift and fast-moving, and the writing fluid so that young readers will find this novel fun, entertaining and thought-provoking as they try to guess the truth along with Nathaniel. Dafoe astutely builds the tension at the end of every chapter, begging readers to flip ahead.

If you are looking for an enjoyable story that kids will relate to and will encourage them to think a bit to figure out the running mystery, then The Mystery of Turkelton Manor will certainly appeal to them — whether your children have an investigative drop in their blood or not.

The Mystery at Turkelton Manor is available for purchase here.

After a career as a private security officer and deputy sheriff, Kraig Dafoe went back to college at the age of 42, earning his BA in English writing and graduating cum laude from Washburn University in 2017. Deciding to continue his education, Kraig received his Master of Liberal Studies degree in 2019. Kraig is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society and The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. He writes in multiple genres: fantasy, thrillers, mystery and poetry. He is the father of five children and currently resides in Kansas, raising his youngest son. His son Chance, a college art major, is the illustrator of the book’s interior pictures.