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Reynie Muldoon is living the dream: he's spending a weekend day taking tests. Okay, so it's not everybody's dream, but Reynie is taking the tests because of a cryptic ad he and his tutor/mother-figure, Miss Perumal, saw in the local paper that read, "Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?" Just so happens that when Reynie answers these questions, the answers are yes and yes.
The tests are weird and appear to go far beyond typical multiple-choice exams, testing not just for standard intelligence but for specific character traits as well: honesty, kindness, desire to help others, and, curiously, a dislike of radio and television in general. As a result, only four children pass the tests: Reynie, George "Sticky" Washington, Kate Wetherall, and Constance Contraire.
The four children, who all happen to be alone in the world, are escorted to the residence of one Mr. Benedict, where they get to know Mr. B himself and three other adults quite well: Number Two (a woman who resembles a pencil), Rhonda Kazembe (who isn't much older than they are, maybe eighteen or nineteen?), and Milligan (a man with James Bond skills and no memory of his past).
The kids learn that the world is in danger from a crazy genius (Ledroptha Curtain) who has been controlling people all over the world with his subliminal messages. No one really understands his ultimate aim, but they can tell that something big—and bad—is coming and that there's not much time. The kids agree to go undercover at L.C.'s school for exceptional children, The Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, so they can attempt to uncover and foil Mr. Curtain's insidious plan, whatever it is.
They do, and they do, more or less. Navigating their way through numerous mysteries and clues (which you, dear Shmoopsters, can also try to unravel along the way), the members of the Mysterious Benedict Society (as they have named themselves) do manage to figure out what Ledroptha Curtain is up to and stop him. At least for the time being.
In one of the final scenes, Mr. C escapes, leaving the door wide open for a sequel or two. Luckily for you, they've already been written, so if you have as much fun with The MBS as we did, you can charge right through them all (and even into the prequel, if you like).
Oh, and one more thing—remember how we said the four children, Reynie, Sticky, Kate, and Constance were alone in the world? Well at the end of the book, they're not. Which makes for a satisfying conclusion even without Mr. C's absolute ruin.