Two gangs of middle school brainiacs use carbon dating to take down a smuggling ring.
The book begins with a flash-forward: Charlie’s on a cargo ship in Boston Harbor, menaced by a pair of off-the-shelf bad guys, leaping into freezing water to escape. The action cuts back two weeks to when Charlie and his sixth grade Whiz Kids discover a bone on a field trip. They identify it with the help of an excitable white-bearded science professor at Harvard: It’s a woolly mammoth tusk! How did it get to Boston? To find out, they’ll need the help of a new group of budding scientists, led by Janice, a black girl who uses a wheelchair and talks in disability platitudes (“I know I’m different, but we’re all different, right?”). Somehow, every clue in their mystery goes back to “Africa,” though neither specific African countries nor any human residents of the continent are ever referenced. The Whiz Kids are all white except Kentaro, the “little Japanese kid,” and all are male except Crystal; the others are Charlie and two redheaded boys, one gangly and disorganized and the other fat with apparently comical allergies. Their new friends, who attend school in the city—unlike the Whiz Kids, who live in a wealthy suburb—offer racial diversity. What with all these characters, along with (somewhat-accurate, rarely relevant) Boston trivia and science factoids and a mystery involving a wealthy white businessman, there’s no room for character development.
Formulaic and busy. (Adventure. 8-11)