Russell (Across the Mekong River, 2012, etc.) returns with her second middle-grade adventure story about the teen hero of Martin McMillan and the Lost Inca City (2005), who this time finds himself tracking down criminals in Thailand.
Martin McMillan’s father works at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, where he is about to open the “Treasures of Thailand” exhibition, featuring an enigmatic statue known as Ruby Elephant, which is rumored to hold the key to a long-lost hoard of treasure belonging to a 16th-century Thai prince. Martin and his friends get caught up in the disappearance of the elephant, and the trail leads them to Thailand, where—despite the misgivings of their parents—they vow to unravel the clues and find the missing treasure. Their adventure includes details of dynastic battles between Thai rulers and descriptions of ancient temples that are at times intrusive, breaking up the narrative flow, but the action is fast-paced as Martin and his friends plunge deeper and deeper into danger. In attempting to provide excitement, the story sometimes goes too far, such as when Martin, who has just turned 13, and his friend Isabel find themselves taken hostage by a dangerous gang, gagged and bound, only to escape in an abandoned car, despite having next to no driving experience. The book also offers an inconsistent characterization of Junya, a Thai girl with a less than perfect command of English, who at one point relates the complicated history of King Naresuan’s nephew Prince Luang without stumbling and at other moments has difficulty finding simple words. The text has occasional typos, such as spelling a character’s name “Sofia” and “Sophia” on the same page, but the story is engaging and peppered with surprises, and the background of Thailand is well-drawn.
A middle-grade adventure story with plenty of action and an engaging plot, which may appeal to fans of the Indiana Jones movies.