Publisher's Note:  

SCOOTER KING UNDERSTANDS illusions. In the midst of the Roaring Twenties, he performs them behind the scenes at his mother’s séances, giving the impression that Madam King communicates with the dead. Scooter also admires Harry Houdini and can hardly wait to see the famed magician escape from his razzle-dazzle Burmese Torture Tank. But when Scooter stumbles upon a dead body in the visiting Houdini’s tank, it’s no illusion. Who could the murderer be? And did he—or she—kill the right person?

As Scooter sets out to unmask the killer, the mysterious worlds of mediums, séances, and magic are revealed. No one is above suspicion, and appearances are deceiving. If Scooter doesn’t sort out the clues—and fast—he may end up as the next dead body.

The Seance

by Heather Vogel Frederick

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Overall Review:  

    Scooter King, thirteen, helps his mother with her fake séances. He finds information about the clients, uses the reaching rods and the speaking trumpet, and makes batches of "spirit lights."
    Scooter’s excited that Houdini’s in town, but his mother's nervous—Houdini challenges and unmasks fake mediums, demonstrating in public exactly how they fool their clients.
    When Scooter goes to the theater to see the Burmese Torture Tank that Houdini will escape from, he finds a dead man inside.
    Scooter saw a stranger running out of the room, but the police dismiss his evidence, so Scooter starts hunting for the killer himself—but will it be the death of him?
    Scooter speaks like a miniature Sam Spade: the women are "dames"; his mother’s clients, "chumps," but much of the slang is fun rather than disrespectful, and it helps bring to life the 1920s.
    Scooter thinks intelligently about what happened, finds clues that the adults miss, solves the mystery—and saves himself and Houdini from certain death in a locked room.
    The story moves at a good clip, each chapter ending with a hook to keep the reader going—the hook at the end of chapter two is the first dead body. The story gets really exciting in the final chapters when Scooter and Houdini must escape from a locked room that is filling with water.
Reading Level: 4.9, range 3.2-6.5.
Also good for reluctant readers
Of interest to boys and girls

Content Analysis:  

This review was acquired from on May 15, 2014 and was not completed using Compass Book Ratings’ standardized checklist.  Nevertheless, it contains useful content information which is included here.  The overall number ratings have been approximated based on this information.


3 d*mned

Scooter finds dead man inside Houdini’s Burmese Torture Tank, body "dribbling blood"; mother afraid the mob is after Scooter with tommy guns; description of Houdini escape, suspended by ankles 5 stories up, chained, in a straitjacket; assistant with ax has to break open torture tank to get Houdini out; Scooter thinks he sees someone take out a gun and put it in his mouth—not true; mother wishes Houdini would drown in torture tank; unmasked medium threatens to have Houdini beaten up; Houdini insists Scooter punch him hard in stomach; someone strangled at séance, description of body; Scooter followed in deserted street; another man murdered, throat slit, "left to bleed to death"; Scooter grabbed from behind, his arm twisted hard; Stranger kicked, punched repeatedly in stomach; medium locks Scooter and Stranger in room, breaks pipe so it fills with water, if water rises to electrical box, will electrocute them; Scooter describes how killer could have killed man found in torture tank, why he killed man at séance and third victim; mention that Houdini died from someone hitting him "too hard in stomach, bursting his appendix."  

Mention of a flimsy dress, an hour-glass figure, woman performer wears dress "as tight as paint," men in audience all leaning forward, "their tongues . . . hanging out"; Scooter wonders if man wants to kiss his mother; men wolf-whistle at singer in speakeasy; couple "cuddle and kiss" in speakeasy.

Mature Subject Matter:  

Murder, crime

Alcohol / Drug Use:  

Mention that "gin and soda . . . don’t go together"; men smoke cigars, mentioned repeatedly, another smokes a pipe, men and women smoke cigarettes, accepted; Scooter gets mother to take him to a speakeasy in search of killer, place smells of "cigarette and cigars and gin," mention of cigarette girls, man and woman drinking a martini; Houdini’s wife is at speakeasy, mention of someone who’s had "a wee dram." 

Reviewed By CleanTeenReads
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