Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett
On a warm October night in Chicago, near the University of Chicago, three strange letters are delivered that tell the recipients of an unknown "crime" that is centuries old--a crime that needs to be "fixed." Into this mysterious and dangerous situation fall two 11-year-old schoolmates, a bookstore owner, an old woman, a young teacher, and the theft of a priceless Vermeer painting.
Told as a puzzle within a mystery, Chasing Vermeer is a truly intelligent story involving realistic characters and a situation that, while fantastic, could happen. Adding to the interest is the fact that Blue Balliett's story takes place in Chicago, within the confines of the well-respected and lofty halls of the University of Chicago.
I advise all readers to make a photocopy of the pentomino (a game played with 12 curiously shaped puzzle pieces) code in chapter 6, as they'll need it to read the coded messages that fly back and forth between two characters. Also--pay attention to the artwork!