An absorbing mystery enhanced by its intriguing backdrop.

THE BULLET CATCH

MURDER BY MISADVENTURE

The Axelrods take readers to World War I–era New York City for a tale of magic, mystery and crime.

Orphan Leo lives in Hell’s Kitchen, getting by with his small gang by picking pockets, a skill he learned from reading Harry Houdini’s The Right Way to Do Wrong: An Exposé of Successful Criminals. When the gang’s leader kicks him out, Leo doesn’t want to return to a life of crime. He finds an ad for a magician’s assistant in a lifted wallet and follows up, landing a job as assistant to Signor Barzini, an established professional magician and friend of Houdini’s. Leo spends countless hours learning sleight of hand, how to manipulate cards and, finally, how to help Barzini perform his extraordinary new trick: the bullet catch. Leo will palm the real bullet and load a blank, pretend to shoot Barzini, then resurrect him on stage. Things go wrong when, just as they begin their performances, a famous magician dies as a result of a similar trick, attracting a police detective to investigate Barzini. The mother-and-son writing team brings the setting to life, including such luminaries of the time as Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as minor characters for verisimilitude. The inside knowledge of magic adds an exotic touch.

An absorbing mystery enhanced by its intriguing backdrop. (Historical mystery. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2858-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2015

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Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel.

MAPPING THE BONES

A Holocaust tale with a thin “Hansel and Gretel” veneer from the author of The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988).

Chaim and Gittel, 14-year-old twins, live with their parents in the Lodz ghetto, forced from their comfortable country home by the Nazis. The siblings are close, sharing a sign-based twin language; Chaim stutters and communicates primarily with his sister. Though slowly starving, they make the best of things with their beloved parents, although it’s more difficult once they must share their tiny flat with an unpleasant interfaith couple and their Mischling (half-Jewish) children. When the family hears of their impending “wedding invitation”—the ghetto idiom for a forthcoming order for transport—they plan a dangerous escape. Their journey is difficult, and one by one, the adults vanish. Ultimately the children end up in a fictional child labor camp, making ammunition for the German war effort. Their story effectively evokes the dehumanizing nature of unremitting silence. Nevertheless, the dense, distancing narrative (told in a third-person contemporaneous narration focused through Chaim with interspersed snippets from Gittel’s several-decades-later perspective) has several consistency problems, mostly regarding the relative religiosity of this nominally secular family. One theme seems to be frustration with those who didn’t fight back against overwhelming odds, which makes for a confusing judgment on the suffering child protagonists.

Stands out neither as a folk-tale retelling, a coming-of-age story, nor a Holocaust novel. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 12-14)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-399-25778-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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TRASH

In an unnamed country (a thinly veiled Philippines), three teenage boys pick trash for a meager living. A bag of cash in the trash might be—well, not their ticket out of poverty but at least a minor windfall. With 1,100 pesos, maybe they can eat chicken occasionally, instead of just rice. Gardo and Raphael are determined not to give any of it to the police who've been sniffing around, so they enlist their friend Rat. In alternating and tightly paced points of view, supplemented by occasional other voices, the boys relate the intrigue in which they're quickly enmeshed. A murdered houseboy, an orphaned girl, a treasure map, a secret code, corrupt politicians and 10,000,000 missing dollars: It all adds up to a cracker of a thriller. Sadly, the setting relies on Third World poverty tourism for its flavor, as if this otherwise enjoyable caper were being told by Olivia, the story's British charity worker who muses with vacuous sentimentality on the children that "break your heart" and "change your life." Nevertheless, a zippy and classic briefcase-full-of-money thrill ride. (Thriller. 12-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-385-75214-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: David Fickling/Random

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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