Pish Posh begins:
If you walked into the Pish Posh restaurant on any given night, you would be sure to find a smallish eleven-year-old girl wearing large black sunglasses sitting by herself at a little round table in the back. She had excellent posture and kept quite still--no fidgeting, no hair twisting, no smiling--while she watched the glittery and fabulous customers come and go. Because her glasses were so large and so black, you could not tell whom she was looking at, which made the glittery, fabulous customers at the Pish Posh restaurant very, very nervous.
Eleven-year-old Clara Frankofile makes the glittery, fabulous customers nervous because she is able to spot, unerringly, people who have gone from being Somebodies to being Nobodies. And Nobodies are not welcome at Pish Posh.
When she identifies Dr. Piff as a Nobody, his reaction leaves her feeling... unsettled. Rather than slinking away, never to be seen (at least by Anybody Who Is Somebody) again, Dr. Piff sits down at Clara's private table. And, before he leaves the restaurant forever, he mentions that there is something "peculiar and mysterious" going on at Pish Posh. Something that Clara doesn't know about. Which should be impossible.
But, as she soon discovers, it isn't. There is something distinctly odd about Pish Posh's soup cook, but the investigation hits a dead end. That forces her to do something she's never done before: work with someone else. And that someone else just so happens to be her own age -- and a jewel thief, to boot.
I know I've said this before, but I really don't understand how or why Ellen Potter isn't more well-known. Her books -- and I've now read all of them (so far) -- have a timeless quality that I'd think would appeal to Dahl and Snicket fans, as well as readers of older classics like Ruth Sawyer's Roller Skates. Her books are set in the real world, but they have a fairy tale feel.
Pish Posh was no exception -- Clara, especially at first, is a bit of a horror: pompous and snobby, an aged socialite in a young body. But the more I learned about her, the more her behavior made sense, and, it wasn't long before her existence -- opulent private apartment, indoor roller coaster and all -- just seemed sad.
The mystery component of the story, while interesting and complicated (especially given the just-over-150-pages-length of the book), was very definitely secondary to Clara's personal journey. This is a book about a girl figuring out what Life Is About. And what she wants her life to be about. Some readers have expressed distaste about the dark, violent part of the Pish Posh mystery, but that storyline, I felt, worked in favor of the classic feel -- think back to Roller Skates, for example (if you haven't read it, read it) -- and some have complained that there's too much going on in such a short book to allow for much depth, but the whole thing really worked for me. I felt for Clara. And I couldn't help liking her and rooting for her, even when she was being awful.