I’m taking a break from “serious writing” to focus on a new project: a children’s detective story called The Mystery of the Jade Avenger. The story takes place at fictitious Keeblewhite College in Oxford, England and revolves around an ancient Chinese sword that goes missing and two young detectives — Richard Reynolds and Antonia “Toni” Giordano — who try to discover who stole the sword and why.
Writing about Oxford is helping to take the edge off my England withdrawals, having spent the last six summers in Oxford as coordinator of a study abroad program. I’m finding that writing about a place that has become familiar to you enables you to see it in a very different light. I’m having so much fun with this!
Though the process of writing this book has been unexpectedly therapeutic, I am actually writing this book for an audience of one: my 9-year-old nephew Seth. He loves the Hardy Boys and I’m a lifelong Agatha Christie fan, so the book will have elements strongly influenced by both, I’m sure.
As mentioned, the setting is Oxford, England. The story takes place in modern times, though since it is Oxford, where things seem to change more slowly and some things never change, it might as well be the 1940s or 50s. The action takes place primarily on the site of Keeblewhite College, a college founded in the late 18th century. Other settings are the Ashmolean Museum, which is England’s oldest museum, as well as various “flats,” manors and cottages in the Oxfordshire countryside, and the Covered Market, one of my favorite places to go in Oxford because of the hustle and bustle and all the interesting sights and smells.
My goal is to introduce Oxford, one of my favorites city in the world, to a young audience. Oxford has its own vocabulary, quaint rituals, mysterious customs, and lovely old buildings — all of which I am looking forward to exploiting and exploring in my book. Below is the plot synopsis.
The Jade Avenger, an ancient Chinese sword, goes missing on the opening night of an exhibition in its honor. The sword was on loan for a year to Oxford’s Keeblewhite College from a famous British museum, in an attempt to bring publicity — and therefore revenue — to the struggling college.
Upon the sword’s disappearance, suspicion immediately falls on the competent but ruthless museum curator, Dame Phillipa Scott, and the stuffy and unpopular college principal, Christopher Cummings-Price. The curator and the principal are the ones who seem to have the most to gain out of the sword’s disappearance: the museum and its curator will benefit from the theft in terms of collecting insurance money, while the principal will gain free publicity for his school — and as the saying goes, all publicity is good publicity.
But amateur detective Richard Reynolds and his sidekick Antonia “Toni” Giordana soon find the case is not as clear-cut as it initially appears. In the course of their adventures, they will track down a notorious gang, encounter a fierce Chinese martial artist intent on getting the sword back to its rightful owners (an ancient line of brave Chinese warriors), experience a kidnapping, endure a series of attempts on their lives, and unscramble a secret code before finally discovering the astonishing truth behind who stole the sword.