________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 31 . . . . April 13, 2012



Nicholas Maes.
Toronto, ON: Dundurn Press, 2008.
232 pp., pbk., $11.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-791-4.

Subject Headings:
Missing persons-Juvenile fiction.
Science fiction.

Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.

Review by Crystal Sutherland.

**** /4



It was 6:45 p.m. Lewis was on the porch and trading stares with an oak. The air was warm, a chorus of crickets was chirping, and the fumes from a barbecue were making him faint with hunger. All in all, the atmosphere was tranquil, but he was feeling…lousy.

Never mind that Ms. Widget had kept him after school and had forced him to write five hundred lines on the board – “I apologize for my rude and ungrateful behaviour.” And never mind that Mrs. Gibson had cooked a ghastly meal—meat loaf and potato peels—as a quick peek in the kitchen had revealed. It was really the silent phone that had him down in the dumps. How was it possible? He kept asking himself. How could lightning strike a household twice? First, his mother had vanished without a trace, and now his father had fallen of the face of the planet? Was fate bent on wiping the Castormans out?

Need a lock picked? Call the Castormans! Don’t be fooled by Lewis Castorman’s age: he may be only 12, but, bested only by his parents, he’s one of the best locksmiths in the world. The Castorman family can unlock the unlockable, and create unlockable locks. It’s hard to imagine creating such a lock, but for Ernst K. Grumple, a famous chemist and the most powerful man in New York City, a permanent lock is a necessity. Mrs. Castorman was recruited/forced by Grumple to manufacture such a lock. Once the lock was in place, Grumple went against his word and, rather than releasing her, caused Mrs. Castorman to mysteriously disappear. Lewis was positive Grumple was responsible, but who in their right mind would believe Lewis over Grumple? No one who valued their life, that’s who! Lewis always suspected Grumple: he had a knack for making his problems disappear. No one was brave enough to turn on Grumple, with his powerful chemical and fleet of giant, muscular salamander bodyguards, even when the coincidences become too much. Lewis tries to ignore the obvious, and his father, Mrs. Gibson, Mr. Todery, and Lewis’ good friends, Alphonse and Adelaide Pangettis, do the best they can to help Lewis get over his loss.

     With Mrs. Castorman gone, Mr. Castorman hired two of the oddest characters Lewis had ever met, Mrs. Gibson and Mr. Todrey, to help raise Lewis. Sometimes Lewis questions his father’s brilliance every time he tries to choke down Mrs. Gibson’s interesting meals. Lewis tried to be polite, but Mrs. Gibson’s food never made it easy (almost anyone would have a difficult time eating oatmeal with olives)! If Mrs. Gibson and Mr. Todrey, who are strange in appearance as well as behaviour, were not so kind to Lewis, he would surely have believed his father had lost his marbles!

     The day his father vanished, Lewis started to question his own sanity: the disappearance of his mother long ago, and his father’s recent disappearance, the two best locksmiths in the world, couldn’t possibly be coincidence. It isn’t long before Lewis’ worst fears are confirmed, and Grumple comes for him, too. With a lock designed to remain locked forever, and his father’s life at risk if Lewis fails or refuses to try, there is no option for Lewis but to help Grumple, not matter how much Lewis hates the man.

     Lewis feels terrible when Mrs. Gibson, Mr. Todrey, and the Pangettis get pulled into Lewis’ adventure. Alphonse Pangettis is excited to be going on an adventure that would make the stories in his favorite comic book, Bombardier 19, pale in comparison; his sister Adelaide, however, is ready to clock Alphonse the next time he mentions that stupid comic book! Mrs. Gibson and Mr. Todrey are as devoted as ever to Lewis and would not consider staying behind even if Grumple were not forcing them to go to one of the ugliest and most dangerous places in Canada – Yellow Swamp, an area of Alberta Lewis’ family used to visit in the summer before Grumple turned it from a beautiful natural space to a desolate and unwelcoming place. Somewhere in that swamp is a lock: Grumple does not know how to unlock it, or even where it can be found! He has complete faith in Lewis and his ability to undo his mother’s work; Lewis’ failure would lead to his father’s death.

     Throughout the adventure, true identities (and species) are revealed, riddles unravelled, and bonds stronger than Grumple’s secret strengthened. Never underestimate the power of three kids, two frogs, a giant bat, a flying dinosaur, and a stranger!

     Everyone knows what it’s like to lose someone close; Lewis lost his mother when he was very young, and he still misses her many years later and is certain Grumple is responsible for his loss. His good friends, including two giant frogs in disguise, do everything they can to help Lewis deal with his loss and focus on what he has: his father and friends, and, following in his parent’s footsteps, a great future as a locksmith. Readers will instantly fall in love with the characters, including a giant bat Lewis saves from a monstrous spider, and even ‘the Stranger’ who is covered in bark and has a strange smell. Readers will instantly sympathize with Lewis and feel his pain as he struggles to deal with the death of his mother and the task of unlocking the lock his mother created, the last thing she did before Grumple killed her.

     I sometimes have trouble with fantasy, and Locksmith’s list of characters includes an alien that looks like a dinosaur with 12 wings and 30 legs, talking frogs, bodyguard salamanders, and chemicals that turn absolutely anything into pink goo food that is delicious, especially compared to some of the food Mrs. Gibson makes. Nonetheless, readers will find themselves quickly wrapped up in the storyline, leaving no time to consider the plausibility of the story. Maes makes sure the fate of each character is accounted for as the story concludes but leaves the reader hoping for a sequel. A highly recommended read for all ages!

Highly Recommended.

Crystal Sutherland, solo-librarian at the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, and arms-length government agency created to educate the public and advise the provincial government on issues affecting women, lives in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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