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Award-Winning Author Channels Northwoods in New YA Book

Minnesota native Margi Preus explores familiar scenes and events in her new mystery novel for young adults


Author Margi Preus

Courtesy of University of Minnesota Press

A murder linked to mammoth bones and maple syrup—here in Minnesota, as depicted in The Clue In the Trees, the second book in Minnesota Book Award–winning author Margi Preus’ Enchantment Lake series that follows the investigations of high-school senior and amateur detective Francie.

A Minnesota native and New York Times bestselling author, Preus returns to the fictional town of Walpurgis, Minnesota, where Francie is ready to start fresh with her first year at a new school. After the series’ first book, Enchantment Lake, wherein Francie investigated the rapid deaths of her aunt’s neighbors, Francie decides to take a step away from sleuthing and focus on being a normal teen. That is—until she stumbles upon a local paleontologist’s dead body, strangled with her own scarf. Taking the case, Francie finds herself in compromising positions—suspecting her brother as a murderer, confronting a wicked lunch lady, and getting her hands on a hidden box her missing mother left behind—forcing this “Northwoods Nancy Drew” right back into the type of action the local sheriff advised her against. 

The novel should feel familiar to anyone who has spent time in northern Minnesota on a crisp autumn night, as Preus envisioned Walpurgis based on her own north-woods experiences. Her previous books have taken place in far-away locations such as Norway and Germany, so writing the Enchantment Lake series made for a new, fun way to experience her own neck of the woods. “Leaves drifted from the trees and clustered along the shoreline or floated on the water, made suddenly so cold by frosty nights,” Preus describes in the novel. “Bare branches” and “lonely cabins” add to a chilly depiction, making her reader want to pull out the flannel and snuggle up by the fire.

The characters, drawn as composites of people Preus knows, add to a certain Minnesota charm, with man buns pulled tight and hot-dishes in hand. She mentions Francie’s “loopy great aunts” as similar to her own aunts and, recently, herself. Preus notes Francie’s interest in acting—the character having bounced between auditions now starring in her school play—as something close to her heart. She participated in children’s theater in the past and recently wrote for Colder by the Lake, a comedy theater in Duluth.

Informed residents will also find familiarity in Francie’s new sidekick, Raven, who spends time protesting a nearby pipeline project drawing parallels to the recent Dakota Access Pipeline controversy. While Preus says she does not aim to state an opinion on the topic, she encourages young people to learn more about the issues close to home and to get involved with the causes they care about.

This quick read is meant for a young bookworm cozying up in their northern Minnesota cabin. And as some mysteries remain unsolved, readers can expect more to come in the Enchantment Lake series.

Find The Clue in the Trees on Amazon.

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