A medical examiner will need help from his CIA and arachnid pals when his testimony at a murder trial incites the wrong people in Lyen’s (Battle of Top Hat Wood, 2014, etc.) latest adventure.
Dr. Michael Greenstone, on a fishing boat in the Strait of Gibraltar, has a revelation: the voices he’s been hearing lately are from a couple of spiders communicating telepathically. Jerrythespider, a jumping spider sporting a top hat, is there with Michael, acting as the eyes and ears for garden spider Alma back in California. Alma proposes to Michael that the trio seek and destroy evil, and Michael readily agrees. But first he’s lined up as an expert witness for the prosecution in a Moroccan murder trial. Baroness Maria Castilla has supposedly murdered three people with rat poison at a Tangier hotel restaurant. Michael believes the cause of death was something else entirely, a medical opinion that contrasts with the autopsy report. This certainly doesn’t placate prosecuting attorney Jamal Aswadi, who, unfortunately has ties to a terrorist group. Luckily, Michael and Jerry have the CIA on their side, including their contact, Agent Teresina Antonelli. When it’s evident that someone’s marked Michael for assassination, the CIA tries to keep him safe, starting with the fully outfitted Mirage ST Spitfire—complete with liquid spider silk as per Jerry’s suggestion. The second of Lyen’s children’s series concentrates more on story, with returning protagonist Jerry relegated to a supporting role. The educational qualities are still there: Jerry, though anthropomorphized, fears a stomping foot like most other spiders and regularly dines on flies. The narrative even features the cartwheeling Flic-Flac, one of a species discovered fairly recently in Morocco. But despite Denis Proulx’s lively, cartoonish illustrations, parts of the tale may bump it to YA status, from murders, attempted or otherwise, to dodging bullets and terrorists. It favors action and espionage over mystery, as the CIA is rightly more concerned with keeping Michael and Jerry out of danger than finding a killer (or killers). The ending, meanwhile, takes a drastic turn that introduces a new, borderline sci-fi component, but Lyen forgoes elaboration, opting for a cliffhanger instead.
Jerrythespider sadly loses some of the spotlight, but his eight-legged exploits are always entertaining.