________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover The Devil's Breath. (The Danger Zone).

David Gilman.
Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada, 2007.
391 pp., hardcover, $21.00.
ISBN 978-0-385-66513-1.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.

Review by Thom Knutson.

**** /4


Scarface was almost on him. Max felt him snatch at his neck and the man swore, missing him, as Max stretched out an extra pace. But there was nowhere to go, and within a couple of seconds Scarface would grip him with the huge hands. Then Max saw the downwards-twisting rollers used by cargo handlers to slide heavy cases to the loading area below. Max dived, his backpack now on his chest like a belly board. The rollers rattled as he hurtled downwards. The man behind him shouted something in a foreign language and kicked the wire-caged wall in frustration. He would have to retrace his steps to the stairs. Max hit the curved stainless-steel barrier at the bottom of the chute. It flipped him over. He rolled, hugged his bag to his chest, vaulted over the low barrier and ran straight into Mr Hollywood, who wrapped his muscled arms around him. "Got him!" he yelled; his expensive capped white teeth smiled as they chomped down again and again on a piece of well-chewed gum.

He was too confident. Max threw his head back, giving himself just enough leverage, then slammed his heel down as hard as he could, on the man's ankle. It was one of the most painful self-defense tricks he had learned. Mr Hollywood shouted out in pain and dropped his chin in disbelief as Max whipped his head back up, connecting with the perfect jawline. He heard the teeth shatter and a mumbled, agonizing choking sound. Max knew the man had probably bitten his tongue half through. The shock and pain weren't enough to stop him though, and he lurched at Max, who rammed a shoulder with all his strength beneath the gasping man's rib cage, as if he were tackling a rugby opponent. It rocked Mr Hollywood back on his heels, the momentum forcing his legs against an overweight suitcase; he lost his balance and tumbled helplessly backwards towards the stainless-steel rim of the chute that moments earlier had flipped Max over. It sliced into the base of the man's skull. Blood oozed around his T-shirt and his eyes rolled back into his head. Air bubbled through what was left of his smashed mouth. He wasn't very handsome anymore.

Max pulled his backpack over his shoulders and ran down through the loading bays. Where was everyone? This must be a cargo and luggage loading area, so no one would be here unless they were loading. He had been lucky so far, he knew that. Where was Scarface? He heard an engine grunt behind him, and as he turned a forklift truck accelerated straight at him. Scarface had the pedal to the floor, diesel fumes spewed out and the two metal loading shafts were rising to chest level as Scarface operated the hydraulic lever. He meant to skewer Max like a kebab.


From the moment his flight touches down in Namibia, 15-year-old Max Gordon is on the run. Not only is he pursuing his missing father Tom, an adventurer with a passion for exotic places, Max, himself, is now the target of a hunt as he pieces together clues to discover what has happened to his father. Beginning with a letter sent to him from Tom via Sayid Khalif, a computer whiz and Max's best friend, Max understands the single-worded clue: FARENTINO. A publisher and collaborator with Tom Gordon on the exposing of environmental disasters around the world, Angelo Farentino's name is the hint that Tom is in trouble and needs Max to find him. It is Angelo who provides Max with details about Tom's work when he disappeared. Corporate giant Shaka Chang, a man of towering stature and great financial resources, is planning to build a dam in Namibia that would threaten that country's ecosystem. Tom Gordon's search for aquifers in the region would destroy those plans. Chang has headquartered himself in an impenetrable pre-World War I fort, known as Skeleton Rock, in the barren countryside. One look at the aerial photo and Max knows he will have to find a way into the sinister fort to save his father.

     Through Angelo, Max arrives at Brandt's Kraal Wilderness Farm in Namibia where, after a near brush with death in the cargo area of the airport, he is met by Kallie van Reenen, a 17-year-old who helps her father run a tourist business for birders. Kallie introduces Max to !Koga, a young member of the local Bushman tribe whose father was one of the last to see Tom Gordon. Equipped with a tough old Landrover, Max and !Koga set off across the remote outback towards Skeleton Rock, encountering armed men in trucks, searing desert heat, wild animals, water-filled tunnels, and (for Max) the recurring image of a jackal. Throughout their search, Max is confronted not only by the physical demands of the environment, but also a different level of consciousness that he increasingly cannot dismiss as fatigue.

     In an Indiana Jones-meets-Alex Rider adventure, The Devil's Breath (Danger Zone #1) draws the reader into a vivid world of intrigue, fast-paced action and opposing forces, all set against the backdrop of an exotic African location. While nonstop movement drives the narrative (the reader barely gets a chance to catch a breath), author David Gilman has crafted an appealing cast to fill the quintessential good-guy / bad-guy roles of any dynamic thriller. Employing James Bond-type characteristics, Max is strong, swift and intelligent, taking after his father's love for life on the edge. Yet his introduction into the culture of the Namibian Bushman forces him to look deeper into himself, creating in Max a transformation as he strives to understand !Koga's own knowledge of survival. The turning point for Max is his own "death" as a result of a scorpion sting. Brought back from the brink, the experience releases an energy in Max that draws him into the world of the shapeshifter and gives him the ability to see visions of his destiny at the fort. As the protagonist, Max is forced to make several life-and-death decisions, based on his love for his father, his affection for !Koga, and his acquired hatred for the sadistic Chang. Through these challenges, the reader recognizes that, while Max has matured, by the end of the story he is still "just a kid."

     The only (and very minor) detractor from an otherwise successful work, is that !Koga's ability to understand most of Max's English does not match his apparently limited knowledge of English that the reader is initially led to believe.

     The Devil's Breath should find its way into the hands of any boys who are looking for a breathless race that leaves them wanting more. No doubt readers will anxiously anticipate the next adventure in Danger Zone #2, Ice Claw. The Devil's Breath is an excellent choice for read-aloud, booktalking or just passing on to anyone looking to lose themselves in a great escapade.

Highly Recommended.

Thom Knutson is the Youth Services Coordinator at Saskatoon Public Library in Saskatoon, SK.

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

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