Have no fear, Chet Gecko is here! That’s right, the fourth-grade student/detective Chet Gecko is back in the 14th mystery of Bruce Hale’s popular Chet Gecko Mystery series, From Russia With Lunch. The school’s been turned upside-down, with the kids who would normally be considered teachers’ pets getting into trouble and being sent to Principal Zero’s office. There are so many suspects, it’s difficult for Chet Gecko to figure out who might be the one behind one of the strangest cases Chet has had to deal with in his career. Could it be some of fellow students, practicing witchcraft and casting a terrible spell? Is it possible the culprit behind the mysterious goings-on is a Russian inventor, Dr. Tanya Lightov, who is busy using her inventions to make “improvements” at Chet’s school? What about an employee who was fired because Lightov’s inventions made his or her job unnecessary? Of course, whoever is behind the mystery might be someone completely different, someone who Chet might least suspect…..
When Principal Zero introduces to the students Dr. Tanya Lightov, hired by the Emerson Hicky Elementary School to improve it, and Chet’s favorite teacher Cool Beans is replaced by one of her inventions (the Bibliomalgamator, a contraption that will do everything a librarian can do), Chet’s detective instincts go into overdrive. The machine is supposed to provide a recommended book to students based upon the types of books they say they like to read, but during a demonstration it begins to shake, make noises, and spit out book after book, which go flying at the kids until Cool Beans pulls its plug. It’s not the greatest beginning for the inventor (though it’s a humorous part of the book), but she doesn’t stop there.
The next area of the school Dr. Tanya Lightov feels needs improving is the lunchroom. She invents the “lunch-dispensing Munchmeister 2000” as a more efficient way to serve the students nutritious meals. That’s when the real trouble actually starts. Right after lunch, Chet’s teacher, Mr. Ratnose, has his hands filled trying to manage an even rowdier than usual classroom. Bitty Chu, a gopher who is usually well-mannered and a teacher’s pet, the class punk Jackdaw Ripper, and a “boring field mouse Olive Drabb” are some of the kids Mr. Ratnose is having trouble with. When he tries to get the class to be quiet and focus, these three “kept standing, yakking away.” After Bitty, Olive, and Jackdaw talk back to the teacher, Mr. Ratnose walks them to the principal’s office and has the rest of the class do silent reading while he’s gone.
That’s when Igor Beaver, another teacher’s pet, offers Chet “fifty cents” to figure out what’s happened to Bitty. Igor is worried that Bitty might get thrown off the math team, and there’s a competition coming up with “Petsadena Elementary.” Without her, Igor believes his team will lose. Chet decides to take the case and investigate what caused Bitty’s personality change, and asks Igor to tell him all about it.
With a brilliant gecko detective like Chet, and his clever assistant, the “whip-smart mockingbird” Natalie Attired on the case, it’s only a matter of time before they catch the villain behind the odd personality changes that seem to be spreading all over the school. But the question is, do Chet and Natalie have the time to solve this case before the entire school goes bonkers? And, when Natalie turns against Chet, accusing him of acting mean to her, is it the end of a beautiful friendship? Can he solve the case on his own, or will he somehow be able to convince Natalie that he didn’t do anything, that there is some other explanation?
The animals in the book, Chet’s classmates, are fun to read about, and have pretty cool names that are puns, like the couple I already mentioned, Igor Beaver and Natalie Attired. Also, the chapters have humorous titles that are often puns, like “Witch and Famous,” “By Hook or By Cookie,” “Knock on Woodchuck,” and “Nobody Does It Badger.” There’s a lot of funny wordplay in From Russia With Lunch and in all of the books in the Chet Gecko Mystery series that added to my enjoyment. I could tell that the author, Bruce Hale, must have had fun writing the book.
Chet’s run-in with the girls in his school who are Wiccans is one of the highlights I liked the most. Wiccans are people who worship nature and Mother Earth, and who practice mostly good, or White, magic. Chet, though, accuses the girls of casting a spell on the other students. They get mad at him, and chant a spell to change him into a worm if he can’t discover who the real person is causing the troubles soon enough. Can he discover who it is, or is Chet doomed to spend the rest of his life as a worm?
From Russia With Lunch is another suspenseful but often hilarious mystery from Bruce Hale. It’s a great addition to his Chet Gecko Mystery series that you will want to add to your reading lists. If you like fun-filled mysteries, you’re sure to love From Russia With Lunch and the rest of the Chet Gecko books!