________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 20. . . .January 29, 2010


Fraud Squad. (Orca Currents).

Michele Martin Bossley.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
103 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $16.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55469-114-2 (pbk.),
ISBN 978-1-55469-115-9 (hc.).

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Todd Kyle.

** /4



At the bottom of the stairwell, a closed door led to another corridor, but movement under the stairs caught my attention. I nudged Nick and peered into the dim light. A familiar form emerged, clutching something with both hands.

Robyn?” I said uncertainly.

“Trevor?” Robyn’s voice shook. I could see the fear in her eyes. She was holding plastic bags filled with bulky objects.

I could see clearly through the transparent bags. Robyn had the missing fossils.

Pre-teens Trevor, Nick, and Robyn become embroiled in a mystery when their school class tries to save the funding for a dinosaur dig in Drumheller, AB. As a fundraiser, the school puts on a carnival where Robyn’s fortune-telling abilities are hyped by fellow student Hailey, whose mother is working on the dig. The trio begin to suspect the school’s guest palaeontologist, Dr Joe, of stealing and planting fossils in the dig site in order to drum up support for the project, but they are distracted when Robyn is found with the stolen fossils. As media converge on the site, Trevor discovers that Hailey had masterminded the fraud, framing Robyn by exploiting her fame as a medium, in order to prevent her mother from having to move once again to find work.

     This is a fairly typical mystery story set within the boundaries of Orca’s high-interest, low-vocabulary “Currents” imprint, with a reading level of 4.1. As such, it successfully exploits interest in palaeontology, as well as in mystery stories, keeping the intrigue and the action coming at a fairly fast pace, with enough well-placed clues that the reader will notice things before the characters. Although there is little characterization, or even a hint of personality in Trevor’s voice, the narrative is clean and well-edited.

     But the real story here is the resolution of the mystery. While the potential motivation of the two prime suspects –– Mr Joe’s career, Hailey’s family life –– are quite plausible, the connection between this story and the fortune-telling subplot are strained indeed. In order to frame Robyn, Hailey first fakes an incident where Robyn’s advice saves her life. Then Hailey leads Robyn to the hidden fossils with an anonymous note that tells her to find and return the fossils or risk being accused of stealing them in order to “find” them after a vision. How Hailey knew that Trevor or someone else would discover Robyn in the fossils’ hiding place is not explained. And while the clue that leads him to suspect Hailey –– a fossil label stuck on her jacket –– is spot on, his exposé of the life-saving incident is also a little canned.

     In the end, this book will find its place with educators and librarians looking to entice reluctant readers with appealing and accessible books. But with its fairly unsatisfying plot, it is not likely to be the book that turns them into avid readers.

Recommended with reservations.

Todd Kyle is a public library manager in Mississauga, ON, who has served on the jury of several children’s literature awards in both official languages.

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

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