Being friends with a super sleuth isn’t easy, especially when she’s nine years old, four feet tall, and full of attitude. But for eleven-year-old John Watson, being friends with Shelby Holmes is just the adventure he’s looking for.
After Watson’s online journal chronicling his and Shelby’s case-closing abilities attracts the attention of a newspaper reporter, the pair becomes a small “media sensation” in their Harlem neighborhood. So it’s no surprise (at least, to Shelby!) when the article lands them a new client–a figure skating coach whose star athlete, Jordan Nelson, is receiving strange, threatening messages, written entirely in code.
There’s no one better to crack the cipher than dynamic duo Shelby and Watson! But to gather information, Shelby decides that they’ll have to go undercover . . . as an award-winning pair skating team. Can they use the laws of physics and their acting skills to maintain their covers and figure out who’s sending Jordan such strange messages before it’s too late?
Something was wrong with Shelby Holmes.
You couldn’t really say she was in a bad mood since her usual mood was ah . . . sour. But it was clear there was something going on and it wasn’t good. I practically had to jog to keep up with her after school on Monday. She was muttering under her breath.
“Everything okay, Shelby?” I asked.
Her reply was a grunt.
Okay, thatwas a typical response from her. Next, I would attempt to do what Shelby always did: not simply see, but observe. I would put all the detective skills she had taught me to use and figure out what was going on.
This was what I’d noticed so far: she was her usually prickly self on the way to school. Nothing new there. It was really at lunch when things changed. She sat by herself at her regular table. However, instead of eating, she folded her arms and glared at her lunch bag. After that, she slammed her locker door between classes, and people cleared the way for her more than usual. She didn’t speak at all in science class, and her agitated behavior continued on our walk home.
It had to be something that happened with her lunch. She normally spent lunch period with her head crammed into a book and devouring an assortment of desserts. She didn’t want to “waste precious research time” talking to her friends. Well, herfriend. Singular. Since she only had one and that honor went to yours truly.
Shelby kept speed walking as we went farther away from the Harlem brownstone where we both lived. “What happened with your lunch?”
Shelby abruptly ended her power walk to turn to face me. “Lunch?”
“Yeah, you seemed upset with your lunch.”
Her mouth slightly curled up. “Go on.”
Oh man, this must’ve meant that I was onto something. Soon I’d be like Shelby, deducing a person’s life story with a single glance!
“Where are you going right now?”
“To Kristos.” Kristos is a deli in our neighborhood, where Shelby liked to get her sugar fix.
No way. It couldn’t be.
The pieces of the puzzle started to come together. Shelby being really angry. Her not eating lunch.
I couldn’t believe it. The impossible had finally happened.
And if my deduction was correct, we were all going to suffer for it.
“Your parents aren’t letting you have any sugar.”
Shelby’s pale face turned the same color as her bright red hair. Between clenched teeth, she said, “Yes, my parents voiced their objectionover the amount of sweets I’d been consuming. And they decided to share their concernwith every purveyor of sweets in the neighborhood.”
So here was the thing: Shelby’s parents were completely right. Not like I’d ever admit that to Shelby. The girl inhaledsugar. And not like a cookie here or there. Several candy bars or cookies at once. Sometimes I didn’t think she even breathed between bites. Candy was her preferred payment method when we solved a case.
“If you can’t buy candy, I can get you some.” While Shelby really should cut back on her sweets, I wasn’t going to be the one to deny her candy. I valued my life too much.
Shelby tilted her head. “Think, Watson.”
“Ah, I can handle buying candy. I’m around you enough when you eat it.” It didn’t really bother me that Shelby constantly ate sugar around me. Now, if she did that with pizza and didn’t share, we’d have a problem. Anyway, it seemed pretty simple to me, Shelby’s parents have told people she couldn’t buy sugar, but that didn’t mean—“Oh.”
“Exactly,” Shelby replied, knowing I figured it out.
If I went into Kristos to buy candy, they’d know it was for Shelby since I’m not only Shelby’s friend, I’m also diabetic. Therefore, the ban affected me as well.
(Shelby needed to start giving her parents more credit for how smart they were.)
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
Shelby walked right up to a woman on the street corner who was waiting for the light to change. She got onto her hands and knees, examining the woman’s boots.
“Can I help you?” the woman asked Shelby. She was probably in her midthirties and dressed in a jacket and skirt.
“You really should only walk on the sidewalk. The street can be a very dangerous place to stroll,” Shelby stated as she stood back up and wiped her hands on her baggy jeans.
Where was Shelby going with this?
“Okaaay,” the woman replied before turning her attention back to the stoplight.
Shelby continued, “While the construction on 128th Street can be a bit of a nuisance, you should’ve crossed over to use the sidewalk on the other side. But I understand it was more convenient to walk on the road. If you crossed over, you’d have to do it yet again to turn on Frederick Douglass.”
The woman turned back to Shelby, her eyes wide. “What? How did you . . . Have you been following me?”
I couldn’t help but smile. I loved when Shelby did this. How she could seemingly pull information out of thin air so easily. But it wasn’t easy. It was deductive reasoning.
“No, I wasn’t following you,” Shelby replied with a smile. “It was quite simple, and I can explain if you would be so helpful as to go into that store and purchase me a candy bar. I’ll even give you the money.”
The woman stepped back for a moment to get a better look at Shelby with her messy hair and Harlem Academy of the Arts maroon polo shirt and baggy jeans. The corners of the woman’s lips curled. “Okay, you’ve got me interested. I’ll play along.”
The woman waved away Shelby’s money and in a couple minutes came back with a chocolate bar. Shelby tried to grab it, but the woman held it up high. “I believe you owe me an explanation first.”
“Happily,” Shelby remarked before dropping back down to her knees. She pointed at the woman’s right boot. “You have a fine dusting of dirt on the right side of your right boot, but nothing on your left boot, which indicates that you recently walked by dirt that was to your right. Since we are predominantly surrounded by concrete pavement in Harlem, there aren’t a lot of places in the general vicinity that you could’ve come in contact with dirt, except the construction that has blocked half the sidewalk on 128th Street. Most people would’ve crossed over, unless you were planning on taking the next right, which was Frederick Douglass.”
The woman looked down at her shoe. “But it’s so . . . simple.”
It was, but Shelby was the only person who could put it all together.
“Yes. It’s also correct,” Shelby stated as she held out her hand. The woman laughed as she gave her the chocolate before crossing the street.
Shelby ripped open the wrapper and wistfully finished off the candy bar in four bites. She had a spring in her step as we made our way back home. But once we turned the corner onto Baker Street, Shelby let out another exasperated sigh.
“What is it?”
Shelby glared at me. “That”—she pointed to a woman standing outside our apartment building—“is all your fault.”
BEHIND THE STORY
Every Shelby Holmes case is inspired by a Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This one was sparked by The Adventure of the Dancing Men, which features a substitution cipher. That is pretty much where any similarities between the two stories begin and end.
When I came up with the plot for the book, I started with the cipher. A substitution cipher is a secret code which uses an image to represent a letter of an alphabet. In The Dancing Men it was characters that represented men dancing (shocking, I know)! So when I thought how to make it different, I was thinking maybe I’d make them ballerinas, and the client could be a ballerina. But then something hit me: wait, what if it was figure skaters? And then Shelby and Watson would have to go undercover as figure skaters! That would be hilarious! Poor Watson!
That settled it: Shelby and Watson would be hired to solve the case of a figure skater being sent a cipher. All I had to do was actually come up with a cipher that Shelby and Watson would be able to decode, but not that easily. Oh yeah, and come up with suspects and motives and…and…and!
I got to do fun stuff for research like watching figure skating, The Cutting Edge, and Ice Princess. I also had to research the physics of figure skating, which was exactly as fun as it sounds. Plus, I got to create a cipher–my “art” appears in the book. You’ll soon realize why we have professional illustrators draw the hard stuff for the books (shout out to Erwin Madrid and Matt Robertson!).
I think The Great Shelby Holmes and the Coldest Case might be my favorite book yet and hope you enjoy reading it!