Welcome to Franklin Middle School, where a junior gang of petty thieves and mobsters shakes kids down and humiliates them with water guns. Seventh-grader Matt Stevens, the class detective, is hired by fellow middle-schooler Vinny Biggs (something of a pint-sized Godfather) to recover a lost trinket from Nikki “Fingers,” one of the fastest shots in school. Nikki has decided to go straight because her younger sister has entered the school. This knock-off noir kicks in when Nikki, about to hand over the charm to Matt, is “taken out”—soaked in a place to make it look like she’s had an accident. This humiliation, a highly visible and common practice, immediately turns victims into social outcasts. Matt’s detective instincts tell him that Vinny may have set him up, and he sets out to learn who was really behind this act. Matt Stevens may turn out to be a bankable franchise: His first-person present-tense narration carries in it echoes of Marlowe, and the simple plot makes some crafty twists and turns as it goes along. (Fiction. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8109-7067-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2008

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A summer adventure that determined young readers may enjoy.


Tracy—gratingly—delights in calling her younger brother “Pig Face”; although she has a reasonably amicable relationship with him, she appears oblivious to the hurtful nature of her chronic name-calling.

But, surprisingly, since “Pig Face” comes up over and over, that is not the point of this overlong debut novel for early chapter-book readers. Tracy, 11, her best friend, Ralph, and her astute 9-year-old brother Lester, aka Pig Face, embark on the investigation of a mystery: why was a bag of money left in the detritus under the dugout bench of their small Canadian town’s ballpark? Slightly complicating their investigation is the presence of handsome visitor Zach, whom Tracy is developing a crush on and Ralph (perhaps partly because of that) dislikes. Tracy, Ralph, and Lester, all white, pursue their investigation in a kid-appropriate way, hiding the money and asking around, using a way-too-obvious approach that’s sure to spell trouble later—and it does. There are plenty of red herrings and an unexpected villain in this plot-driven adventure that eventually explores bullying but never, disappointingly, addresses the “pig face” problem. Tracy is a colorful character, dressing in vintage clothing and not ashamed of her intelligence, and Lester is amusingly wise for his years, their well-rounded characters adding authenticity. 

A summer adventure that determined young readers may enjoy. (Mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5107-0621-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Sky Pony Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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High-energy high jinks in a multicultural, or at least multispecies, setting.


From the Tank & Fizz series

Young sleuths stumble on a demonic conspiracy to blow the lid off Slick City’s new sports arena. Just for a start.

Goblin Fizz Marlow and troll gearhead Tank Wrenchlin are convinced that slimeball schoolmate Rizzo Rawlins’ supposedly homemade battle bot illegally incorporates professional-grade code and components. Their search for proof leads them and elven trainee wizard Aleetha to several puzzles. Who is the mysterious “Codex,” and why is he (or she) supplying Rizzo as well as hacking Slick City’s computer systems to threaten disaster if the just-finished Slurp Stadium is opened for the upcoming Battle Bot Cup? How did the stadium come to be built over a magic stone that could, as old maps hint, serve as a portal to demon worlds? What can a trio of fourth-graders do, opposed by corrupt officials, a bully with a pair of hulking hench-ogres, and a local business tycoon with—as it turns out—a high-tech hand-held demon controller? Well, plenty, though not without a few missteps, help from a surprising temporary ally, and lots of climactic bot-smashing. In a slick mix of narrative blocks and panels of nonscary monsters delivering punch lines in dialogue balloons, the exploit careens along to a triumphant close.

High-energy high jinks in a multicultural, or at least multispecies, setting. (Graphic/mystery/fantasy hybrid. 9-11)

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4598-0813-3

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Orca

Review Posted Online: Nov. 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2015

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