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Book Review

This humorous mystery book by Sheila Turnage is published by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of the Penguin Group Inc.

Three Times Lucky is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Mo LoBeau's birth and infancy are a mystery. Eleven years earlier during a hurricane, a man named the Colonel found a newborn strapped to a billboard that was floating down a river. He saved her, named her Moses (Mo) and is raising her, together with Miss Lana. Mo believes someday she'll find her "upstream mother." Although she misses knowing who her real mother is and continues searching for her, Mo considers herself lucky to have been rescued and to be living with the Colonel and Miss Lana.

The Colonel and Miss Lana operate a café in Tupelo Landing, N.C., population 148. The Colonel himself is a mystery because he has no memory of his life prior to finding Mo. He lost his memory when he sustained a head injury when his car crashed the night of the hurricane; he found Mo as he was stumbling away from the wreck.

When a man from town found the two, the Colonel was wearing a colonel's uniform with the name Lobo on it. Miss Lana changed the name to LoBeau when Mo started kindergarten. The Colonel hates lawyers and even has a sign in the café that says, "No Lawyers." He and Miss Lana have a three-day rule — whenever either of them is away more than three days, the one who is away must phone so the other knows they are OK.

Dale Earnhardt Johnson III is Mo's best friend. When Mr. Jesse, a frequent patron of the café, is murdered, Mo and Dale decide to solve the murder. Mo goes to the crime scene and spies on Detective Starr and two deputies, Marla and Ben, who are conducting the investigation. Starr is in the area already because he's been working on a case involving stolen money. Mo trips and falls in the water, which announces her presence to the detective and deputies, and at the same time discovers the murder weapon — a wooden oar belonging to Mr. Jesse's boat.

Dale is a person of interest because he was one of the last to see Mr. Jesse before he died. Starr doesn't think that Dale murdered Mr. Jesse, but he decides to take him into protective custody as a setup to lure the murderer out of hiding. Mo and Dale notice that another man is spying on them. They call him Plainclothes Phil and think perhaps he is acting as a bodyguard for Starr. About the same time, the Colonel leaves, and Mo and Miss Lana begin to worry when he breaks the three-day rule.

At the funeral for Mr. Jesse, the congregation is astonished to learn that the grumpy, churchless Mr. Jesse gave $100 weekly, totaling over time, more than $50,000, to the church.

One night, Mo returns home to find their living area torn up and Miss Lana missing. Dale arrives right behind her and finds a note addressed to Starr on the kitchen table. They deduce that the murderer has taken Miss Lana. Out of fear, they run away from the house, but Starr shows up and sees them fleeing.

Starr's team searches for clues and determines that Miss Lana was dragged away after a struggle. As Mo and Dale look at mug shots on Starr's laptop, Miss Rose stops by to comfort Mo. Suddenly Dale sees Plainclothes Phil's picture. They learn from Starr that Plainclothes Phil is not part of their investigation but that he is Robert Slate, a wanted bank robber who recently escaped from prison.

Mo goes home with Miss Rose and Dale, so she won't be alone. The next day Slate calls, and they learn that he has both the Colonel and Miss Lana and wants a $500,000 ransom, the amount of never-recovered money from Slate's bank robbery. A trace on Mr. Jesse's money to the church reveals that it was from the robbery and that he was connected to the crime.

As Mo and Dale help prepare Miss Rose's house for a forecasted hurricane, Mo gets a call from the Colonel. The connection is poor, and Mo can understand only that he escaped from Slate, that she is to get a packet from his closet shelf and to trust no one. Dale and Mo bicycle to the Colonel's house to get the packet. Mo takes a quick peek and sees that it contains old newspaper clippings. Before they have a chance to leave, a man enters through the front door. They figure it's Slate. He begins to rummage through the closets while they hide under Miss Lana's bed.

As they hear him leave, they hear a woman enter. They scramble toward the living room and run into Marla, the deputy, who points a gun at them. Unexpectedly, Marla isn't so friendly now. She puts away her gun, but interrogates the kids, wanting to know what they're up to. Mo throws a boot at Marla, and she falls, striking her head. The kids tie her up, flatten her tires and take off on Dale's bicycle.

En route to Dale's house, Mo is suddenly hit with the knowledge of where Slate is hiding Miss Lana — an abandoned house nearby. They bike to the abandoned house, but find it empty, though blood-stained. Then they head back to Dale's house where they play cards and wait out the storm.

All at once the door bursts open, and Dale's dad, drunk and angry, is in the room, even though Miss Rose has a restraining order against him. Mr. Macon physically assaults her, and Dale gets a rifle and aims it at him, telling him to get out or he'll kill him. Suddenly, the Colonel appears from a hallway, takes the rifle from Dale and iterates the threat. They tie up Mr. Macon and continue to wait out the storm. Mr. Macon tells them that Miss Lana is being held at Mr. Jesse's house. As they talk, they agree that Marla must have conned them all and was in league with Slate. The Colonel looks through the newspaper clippings in the packet that Miss Lana had saved for him. He knows he must be connected to the robbery, but he isn't sure how.

When the storm begins to abate, the kids and the Colonel, packing an empty pistol, take Miss Rose's car to Mr. Jesse's house. They sneak up to the house, and they split up, the Colonel going in one direction and the kids going in another. Dale and Mo observe Slate through a window as he pries up floorboards to reveal large spaces where things could be hidden but haven't been. Mo and Dale break into the house, kick Slate into the space under the floorboards and secure him by pulling a heavy oak table over the opening. When the Colonel returns, he uses a cord to tie up Slate, while Mo keeps the empty pistol trained on him. Next Starr appears at the door, and he has Miss Lana. She had escaped from Slate by hitting him with a lamp.

As the investigation winds down, Starr presents a newspaper clipping that upsets the Colonel because it shows that he was a defense lawyer at Slate's trial, and he hates lawyers. They find a metal box under the floor that contains the remainder of the bank robbery money. Slate and Marla are sent off to jail, and the town gets back to its routine, starting with a grand reopening of the café.

Christian Beliefs

On the night he found Mo, the Colonel recounts how he cried out to God, asking Him what He wanted from him and to give him a sign. Dale's family is Baptist. When Mo figures out Miss Lana's location, Dale thanks Jesus. Miss Rose prays during the storm.

The Rev. Thompson says his son, Thessalonians, avoided summer school because of makeup tests and prayer. The Rev. Thompson offers Creekside Church as a venue for Mr. Jesse's funeral. When Mo tells Starr that her name is Moses, she says it's biblical and tells him not to make fun of it because the last person who did drowned in the Red Sea. Dale sings in church, sometimes as a soloist with his mother as accompanist, and his father calls it sissified. He sings "Amazing Grace" at Mr. Jesse's funeral.

Other Belief Systems

Miss Lana says that Mo's circumstances are a result of Fate or Forces Unknown; Dale says they are a miracle. Mo says Miss Lana studied her like a star chart and read her voice like a gypsy reads tea leaves. She tries mental telepathy when Miss Lana has been kidnapped by saying, "Think to me" and tells her she's staying at Miss Rose's house. Mo writes in her journal that everyone has a way of believing: The Colonel doesn't attend church because God "took Sunday off" so he does, too. If God wants him, He'll know where to find him. Miss Lana attends church on Christmas and Easter. Mo likes to go to church to hear stories about the original Moses. Dale's brother, Lavender, believes in NASCAR Zen. Mo writes to her mother and asks what she believes in. Mo adds that she believes in treating people well.

Authority Roles

The Colonel is a gruff parent figure, but he generally has common sense and deeply loves Mo. He and Miss Lana are unmarried. They share the same house, but he maintains separate quarters, and they seldom are home at the same time. The Colonel's parenting style is not in synch with Miss Lana's, allowing Mo, for example, a later curfew. He calls Mo Soldier and tries to instill solid values in her by telling her, for example, that he expects her to obey curfew, be considerate of others and never lie.

Miss Lana, 36, is somewhat eccentric, dressing up from time to time as different Hollywood celebrities. She encourages Mo to journal to and about her mother, instead of behaving violently toward others. She also deeply loves Mo and is the only mother Mo has known.


Infrequent use of the words jacka--, dumb as dirt, pee, moron, dang, reptile brain, dad-blamed, cripes. Lord and God are used with good, sake and help me, once each. Mr. Jesse calls Dale a "no-good son of a white trash drunk."

As a kindergartener, Mo uses her head to ram into another girl, leaving her "wheezing in the mud." Dale's dad is an alcoholic and abuses his wife. When he returns to the house in the storm, he grabs her by her blouse, pulling her up on her toes. Then he slaps her, snapping her head back, and she falls to the floor as her knees buckle. Dale gets his mother's rifle and aims it at his dad, telling him he'll kill him if he doesn't get out of the house. His mother divorces Mr. Macon at the book's end. Marla pinches Mo a couple of times. Once she shakes Mo hard enough to make Mo's head snap back.


Mo is infatuated with Dale's 19-year-old brother, Lavender; she wants to marry him someday and adopt six children. She obsesses about his good looks. Lavender kisses Mo's cheek; she calls it her first kiss. Dale refers to Miss Lana's breasts as boobs. The café is kept available Wednesdays for emergency bridal showers.

Miss Lana tells the truth about her relationship with the Colonel. They met 12 earlier, and it was love at first sight. They had plans to elope and move to Paris when a hurricane struck and the Colonel had his car accident. When he had no recollection of his life, Miss Lana hoped he would fall in love with her again. They started a business in Tupelo Landing and live in the same house, unmarried.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Mrs. Simpson ostracizes Mo because she is not from their town. Her daughter, Anna, teases Mo at every opportunity, calling her "Mo-ron" and bringing up her motherless state.
  • How does Mo respond to these taunts?
  • Is she justified in her hate for Anna?
  • How does the Bible say you should respond to insults (Matthew 5:39)?

  • Consider Mo's statements about church attendance.

  • How does each person rationalize not going to church?
  • Why do you go to church?
  • How is our worship at church designed to please and glorify God?
  • Is its purpose to please people, as these characters seem to think?

  • What is the difference between infatuation and love?

  • Do you think Lavender spends as much time thinking about Mo as she does about him?
  • When Lavender kisses Mo on her cheek, how does she react?
  • Do you think Lavender has any idea that Mo is infatuated with him?

  • Why do Dale and his brother become nervous around authority figures?

  • How does their father's abuse play a role in their reactions?
  • Have you ever known anyone whose mother or father was abusive?
  • What constitutes abuse?
  • What would you do if you knew of someone who was being abused?

Additional Comments/Notes

Theft: Dale "strongly borrows" Mr. Jesse's boat so he and Mo can go fishing.

Deception: Dale and his family lie whenever a person of the law is near. The Colonel never lies, we're told, but he lies to Detective Starr about when he purchased his car. Dale sneaks out of his house at 3 a.m. to go to Mo's house because he is afraid he's being named as a suspect in the murder. Mo lies to Miss Rose about what hour she called Dale. Miss Lana forbids Mo to go to the crime scene alone, but she goes anyway.

Alcohol: The doctor tells 19-year-old Lavender after he gets a concussion, "No alcohol and no women." Miss Rose tells Lavender's friend that he smells like a brewery and that he shouldn't drive. Then she suggests he drive Mo home. Dale's dad is an alcoholic who frequently beats his wife, sometimes his son, and is found passed out in one of the bedrooms.

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Sheila Turnage






Record Label



Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of the Penguin Group Inc.


On Video

Year Published




We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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