Four kids chase clues to find a hidden treasure in Vogel’s debut middle-grade adventure story.
In this novel, classmates Jake, Julie and Zach follow centuries-old clues while on a school trip to Ireland. At the start, 14-year-old Jake, a resourceful kid with a penchant for geeky gadgets, meets the O’Connells, his host family, at the airport; on the ride to their house, they stop at an overlook where Jake spots a little girl about to fall off a cliff into the deep waters of the Irish coastline. He dives in to save her and, while underwater, finds and retrieves a small wooden box; in it, he finds a small piece of metal engraved with the phrase “One hundred steps in the clouds of God” in Spanish. Soon the youngsters, including the host family’s 15-year-old daughter, Maggie, must keep one step ahead of two mysterious men who want to claim the treasure as their own. When they find out that valuable historical artifacts have been disappearing from local museums, they begin to connect the dots of an age-old mystery. Many archetypal characters are present in this tale, including Zach, a vacuous bully who targets Jake, and Zach’s girlfriend, Julie, who’s Jake’s schoolboy crush. They all sneak behind their host families’ backs for pursuits through uncharted territories, including a castle, an underground cave and a monastery. The two villains play a game of cat-and-mouse with the kids, and near-misses abound at each location. The story focuses primarily on Jake and his jury-rigged inventions—such as a molasses-and-vegetable-oil-filled squirt gun—and his inner dialogue provides a good source of humor throughout. Meanwhile, he’s also determined to find the treasure to have the a chance to buy back his dad’s sailboat, which had been sold to pay medical bills; back home in New York, his father, once a sailing enthusiast, was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. Although the book’s initial treasure-hunt premise may seem clichéd, its conclusion does pay off, as Vogel ties up the story masterfully and offers a satisfying epilogue.
A fun, if somewhat contrived, kid’s caper.