Overlong and underthought, it’s a mystery best left unsolved.

BLUR

From the Blur series , Vol. 1

A teenage girl is found dead in the local lake. There’s no sign of foul play, but Daniel Byers has a hair-raising experience that causes him to think there’s murder afoot.

When Daniel attends Emily Jackson’s funeral, the last thing he expects to see is her ghost pleading with him to solve her murder. After this supernatural opening, Daniel embarks on a clunky whodunit that scarcely raises the pulse. The key to a good mystery is pacing and stakes, but instead, James provides uninspired melodrama and red herrings to spare. It is never clear why Daniel needs to solve this case, and the hocus-pocus that prods him along comes off as hokey rather than eerie. As sleuths, Daniel and his friend Kyle make for a dull pair. Inane girl troubles and run-of-the-mill family issues are poorly integrated, feeling like padding that distracts from the maniac on the loose. The book’s lone highlight is the ending, when all is revealed in an absurd confrontation that cribs from the best pulp noirs of the 1930s and ’40s. This ending jars with the rest of the book, but the camp on display supplies a much-needed shot in the arm.

Overlong and underthought, it’s a mystery best left unsolved. (Mystery. 12-16)

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1477847275

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Skyscape

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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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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A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

From the Peculiar Children series , Vol. 1

Riggs spins a gothic tale of strangely gifted children and the monsters that pursue them from a set of eerie, old trick photographs.

The brutal murder of his grandfather and a glimpse of a man with a mouth full of tentacles prompts months of nightmares and psychotherapy for 15-year-old Jacob, followed by a visit to a remote Welsh island where, his grandfather had always claimed, there lived children who could fly, lift boulders and display like weird abilities. The stories turn out to be true—but Jacob discovers that he has unwittingly exposed the sheltered “peculiar spirits” (of which he turns out to be one) and their werefalcon protector to a murderous hollowgast and its shape-changing servant wight. The interspersed photographs—gathered at flea markets and from collectors—nearly all seem to have been created in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and generally feature stone-faced figures, mostly children, in inscrutable costumes and situations. They are seen floating in the air, posing with a disreputable-looking Santa, covered in bees, dressed in rags and kneeling on a bomb, among other surreal images. Though Jacob’s overdeveloped back story gives the tale a slow start, the pictures add an eldritch element from the early going, and along with creepy bad guys, the author tucks in suspenseful chases and splashes of gore as he goes. He also whirls a major storm, flying bullets and a time loop into a wild climax that leaves Jacob poised for the sequel.

A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end. (Horror/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

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