"Capture the Flag" is by Kate Messner.

CAPTURE THE FLAG,” by Kate Messner, Scholastic Press, $16.9, 240 pages (f) (ages 8-12)

The flag is missing! Not the one on the pole outside the Smithsonian Museum, but the one on display inside known to have inspired Frances Scott Key's “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The flag disappeared from a secure display case during a gala at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. Among the distinguished guests at the festivities — but not by their choice — were three seventh-graders: Anna, more interested in procuring an interview with Senator Snickerbottom for a school assignment than the historical realia on display; Jose, son of the textile scientist who had restored the flag but who carried the complete Harry Potter series in his backpack (each of which showed signs of repeated readings); and Henry, a computer game aficionado, who while his father was away on a second-marriage honeymoon, accompanied Aunt Lucinda when she insisted on the museum trek.

Coincidence threw these three unlikely friends together at the museum in "Capture the Flag," by Kate Messner, and later as they were held up at the airport when a fierce winter storm halted all flights. When the news of the missing flag was announced, Anna recruited the others to investigate a possibility the flag and the thieves were caught at the airport as well.

Through their investigation, they discover another coincidence: They each have parents belonging to the “Silver Jaguar Society” whose members are “bound by our lineage to protect the world’s artifacts, and passed that promise down through generations."

The dynamics of the three young sleuths are cleverly drawn and Messner keeps the action moving briskly especially when they venture down the luggage conveyor belt into the belly of the dark baggage compartment seeking suspicious clues in suitcases. The antics of the would-be detectives are risky and humorous with true teen banter that keeps the story engaging.

“Capture the Flag” is a satisfying series opener which should lead to future mysteries with this spunky and tenacious threesome that have found a common goal in preserving world artifacts.

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