If you haven’t heard of Friday Barnes yet, you’re going to want to get very well acquainted with the young detective who’s already managed to solve three books’ worth of mysteries since her debut last year.
R.A. Spratt’s Holmes-ian creation is a genius at solving crime but not so great at social niceties — something that comes up now that she’s at an exclusive boarding school (and has a best friend). Luckily, Friday doesn’t have much time to ponder interactions with her classmates, as she’s too busy solving the puzzles, and cases, they bring her.
However, No Rules, the fourth book in the series, opens with Friday deported to Switzerland. But with their master of mystery-solving out of the country, Highcrest Academy is in a panic. Not only did all the teachers get fired as a prank, but Ian Wainscott, Friday’s nemesis-slash-love-interest, is the prime suspect. There’s also the matter of the new Vice Principal who’s been behaving a little strangely…
With No Rules: A Friday Barnes Mystery set to hit bookstores Aug. 1, EW presents an exclusive first look at one of the cases on Friday’s upcoming agenda.
Exclusive excerpt from No Rules: A Friday Barnes Mystery by R.A. Spratt
The Case of the Missing Math Textbooks
Later that afternoon, Friday was with Melanie in study hall writing her self-analysis. She had actually written well over seven thousand words because she found the subject of herself so compelling. She was just beginning an analysis of her id when she was interrupted.
“Excuse me, Friday dear, I was wondering if you could give me some help?”
Friday turned to see Miss Franelli, a mousy woman who looked fifty-five but was really only twenty-nine. Miss Franelli was a math teacher. She loved the subject herself, but she was a kind, shy woman, so she felt terrible for forcing children to study something that the vast majority of them loathed.
“What’s the problem?” asked Friday.
“My sophomore class,” said Miss Franelli. “All their textbooks have gone missing.”
“Where have they gone?” asked Friday.
“I don’t know,” said Miss Franelli. “I think the students have hidden them, but I’ve looked everywhere and I can’t find them.”
“Really?” asked Friday. “They’ve hidden every single textbook?”
“Ingenious,” said Melanie. “I wish I’d thought of that.”
“They were never very enthusiastic students before,” said Miss Franelli. “But VP Pete’s talk of freedom seems to have gone to their heads.”
“Can’t you report them to him?” asked Friday.
“I did,” said Miss Franelli. “He told me that I needed to befriend the students and speak to them on their level, and if I didn’t do that I’d have to look for a position at a less progressive school.”
“He can’t fire you,” said Friday. “You’re the only teacher in the math department who has a grasp of fourth-dimensional geometry.”
“I did mention that I am very qualified and that I have a master’s degree in pure mathematics,” said Miss Franelli, “but he just shook his head and said that it was this sort of patriarchal thinking that was holding back my career.”
“But what do they do in class if they’re refusing to study?” asked Melanie.
“They just sit around reading romance novels,” said Miss Franelli.
“The boys as well?” asked Friday.
“Oh yes,” said Miss Franelli. “I confronted Tristan Fanshaw about it and he told me that human relationships were the backbone of civilized society, and therefore romance novels were much more educational than anything I’ve taught him.”
“He probably just enjoys the kissing parts,” said Melanie.
“So what exactly happened?” asked Friday.
“Well, I had them for a double period but it was split by recess,” said Miss Franelli. “Before recess, they all had their textbooks. After recess, the books were gone. The students won’t tell me where. I searched the classroom, the staff room, and the book closet. They weren’t there. Not in any of the nearby classrooms. Not in the grounds or the gardens, or the bushes just outside the windows. I couldn’t find them anywhere.”
“Perhaps they took them back to their rooms?” said Melanie.
“There wasn’t time,” said Miss Franelli. “Recess is only fifteen minutes. The sophomore dormitory is on the far side of the school. Besides, it was raining yesterday. They would’ve been soaked if they’d tried to walk. And they weren’t. They were dry when they got back to class.”
“Hmm, I think I know where the textbooks are,” said Friday.
“You do?” said Miss Franelli.
“But you haven’t even searched the scene of the crime,” said Melanie. “You always search the scene of the crime, preferably with a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers, examining every minute detail.”
“This time I just need to check the geography,” said Friday. “Let’s go and see your classroom.”
Friday, Miss Franelli, and Melanie left the study hall and walked across to the school quad.
“That’s your classroom up there, isn’t it?” asked Friday, pointing to the second-floor classroom at the end, closest to the math staff room.
“Yes,” said Miss Franelli.
“Then it all fits,” said Friday. “Come on.”
When they climbed the stairs and arrived at the classroom, Miss Franelli’s sophomores were lounging around reading their novels.
“Class,” said Miss Franelli, “Friday Barnes has come to help find your textbooks.”
“Oh good,” said Tristan Fanshaw. “We were all so worried.”
The class sniggered at his sarcasm.
Friday scanned the room. The apathy of the sophomore students was palpable. They were clearly a group who spent more time styling their perfectly disheveled hair than they did on their schoolwork.
“Are you going to cross-examine them?” asked Miss Franelli.
“There’s not much point,” said Friday. “They’ll just enjoy taunting me, and I’d rather not give them the pleasure.” She turned and walked back to the doorway. “Let’s get the books.”
“Good luck with that,” called Tristan Fanshaw as Friday started walking down the corridor with Melanie and Miss Franelli.
“Where are we going?” asked Melanie.
“You said they were all entirely dry when they returned from recess,” said Friday. “If they had stepped foot out into the rain, they would have ruined their self-consciously disheveled hair. So, wherever they took the books, they got there by walking under cover.”
Friday reached the end of the corridor and walked down the large staircase to the ground floor. She looked about. They were standing with the downstairs corridor on one side and the doorway to the quad on the other. “Now, where could they go without getting wet?”
“Along the corridor,” said Melanie.
“But then they’d be walking back toward their classroom,” said Friday. “I think instinct would make them walk farther away.”
“But it was raining outside,” said Miss Franelli.
“There is one covered walkway,” said Friday as she stepped out into the quad.
“The walkway to the library,” said Melanie.
“Precisely,” said Friday. “A library full of books.”
“You think the textbooks are there?” asked Miss Franelli.
“I’m sure of it,” said Friday. “What better place to hide twenty books than in a building full of tens of thousands of books?”
“We’ll never find them,” said Miss Franelli.
“Don’t be so sure,” said Friday. “Let’s go and see.” She walked directly across the quad to the library on the far side.
Two minutes later they were standing in the romance section of the school library.
“These are all romance books,” said Miss Franelli.
“No, they just look like romance books,” said Friday. She took one down from the shelf and opened it up. “Okay, this one actually is a romance book, but the textbooks will be here somewhere.”
Friday started taking stacks of romance novels down from the shelves.
“What are you doing?” demanded the librarian, striding over to the section.
Friday and the librarian did not get along. Given Friday’s love of books, you would think she would be a librarian’s favorite. But the librarian at Highcrest Academy was a woman of strong views. She did not like children. She especially didn’t like children who touched her books. Most of all, she didn’t like impertinent children who criticized the purchases she made for the science section, which is exactly what Friday had done when they first met. Ever since, the librarian had hated Friday with the intense repressed rage only someone who works in an environment where yelling is forbidden can possess.
“We’re looking for math textbooks,” said Friday.
“You’re not going to find them here,” said the librarian.
“I think I will,” said Friday. “Miss Franelli’s class left the first half of their lesson yesterday with their textbooks. When they returned they had romance novels.”
“These are not math textbooks,” said the librarian, snatching the books away from Friday and stacking them back on the shelf. “They are not the right size. These are standard hardbacks. Textbooks are much larger.”
“Of course,” said Friday. “You’re right. But I don’t understand. All the evidence leads to here. The textbooks must be here somewhere.”
“Do you have any oversize romance novels?” asked Melanie.
“Romance novels aren’t printed in that format,” said Friday.
“Actually,” said the librarian, “they are when they are published in large print for the visually challenged.”
“The what?” asked Melanie.
“People with bad eyesight,” said Friday. “But there aren’t any students here who are visually impaired.”
“No,” said the librarian, “but we did get a large collection of books donated to us by Lady Cutler. She had an excellent ornithology collection and first-edition travel memoirs. But her eyesight failed in her later years and she mainly read large-print romance novels.”
“Where are they kept?” asked Friday.
“In their own section,” said the librarian. She led them to the far end of the library where two entire bookshelves were jam-packed with oversize romance novels. “Lady Cutler was an avid reader.”
“We can see,” said Friday. She reached out and took a book from the center shelf, then took off the dust jacket. The dust jacket read The Sheikh’s Ambitious Bride, but when she removed it the title on the spine of the book was Advanced Mathematics, 17th Edition.
“Those little ingrates,” said the librarian, snatching down books and discovering one textbook after another. “I let them come in here to get out of the rain, because goodness knows only meteorological intervention could possibly inspire them to read, and this is how they repay me!”
“Don’t worry,” said Friday, “Miss Franelli knows where your novels are.”
“The hard part will be getting them to give them back,” worried Miss Franelli.
“I’ll get them,” said the librarian with ominous menace.
“You will?” said Miss Franelli hopefully.
“It will be my pleasure,” said the librarian as she strode off with Miss Franelli toward the math classroom.
The yelling could be heard from as far away as the school swamp.
“That was fun,” said Friday. “I haven’t had a good mystery to solve in ages.”
“Since Ian left,” said Melanie.
“Since I promised not to cause trouble,” said Friday. “I can’t wait for the Headmaster to get off probation so I can be a nosy again.”