________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 38 . . . . June 4, 2010

cover

The Billionaire’s Curse.

Richard Newsome.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins Canada, 2010.
344 pp., hardcover, $21.99.
ISBN 978-1-55468-664-3.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Kay Weisman.

*** ½ /4

Reviewed from Uncorrected Proof.

excerpt:

He picked up a sheet of notebook paper. It was decorated with a floral design and covered in an old lady’s handwriting—the same writing as on the front of the envelope. He lay on his stomach and read the note:

Hello, Gerald. I hope this isn’t too weird for you—a letter from beyond the grave! By now you are my heir and worth a good deal of money. I hope you don’t mind.

Bit late to be asking me that now! Gerald thought. He read on.

I have a favour to ask. I am told you are a bright chap. I know we never met, but your mother kept me up to date on your achievements and whatnot in her letters. So I expect you’ve figured out that I was murdered. I want you to find out who did it.

Gerald’s eyes locked on the word murdered. As if the day hadn’t been bizarre enough. He continued to read:

It’s a long story and I’ve tried to explain it here as best I can. I’m afraid it has all been a bit of a rush. But the harsh fact is that if you are reading this, then I am dead. Murdered dead.

 

Thirteen-year-old Gerald Wilkins is looking forward to a skiing trip in the Australian Alps until his parents inform him that Great-Aunt Geraldine (who lived in London, Eng.) has died unexpectedly and they all must attend her funeral. Later, he learns that Geraldine was extremely wealthy—twenty billion pounds—and that he is her sole heir. Gerald’s ecstatic, money-grubbing parents depart directly from the funeral on an extended Caribbean cruise, leaving him to be cared for by assorted servants and attorneys. Once Gerald reads the note (above), he feels obliged to solve the mystery, especially since it seems that his own life may be in danger, too.

     Australian Newsome’s debut novel, the first in a trilogy, brims with intrigue, humour and high adventure. Sensing that Geraldine’s murder is somehow connected with the theft of a famous diamond, Gerald begins his search at London’s British Museum. As he flees the paparazzi (who have dogged him since his inheritance was announced), he is nearly kidnaped by a stiletto-wielding albino man who smells of bleach. Gerald’s rescue, by twins Ruby and Sam who join him on his quest, sends the three to explore the museum’s famous reading room (where the theft occurred) and discover an abandoned tube station that leads them to a gentlemen’s club and the probable thieves. But are the thief and the murderer one and the same? Or is the real villain a family member, perturbed about his lack of inheritance?

     Playing with classic English mystery tropes (Gerald’s country home, Avonleigh, employs a staff “all dressed up as if it were 1910” and the three friends search for clues at a neighboring Dracula-esque mansion filled with secret passageways and hidden crypts), Newsome drops clues and red herrings like a pro, resulting in a page-turning and satisfying mystery-adventure. Main characters are multi-dimensional as well: Gerald, a skilled rock-climber, has ESP-like visions that lead him to important clues; Ruby, a gymnast, has a mind as nimble as her feet; and Sam takes full advantage of the fact that others write him off as not quite all there.

     In a fast-paced conclusion, Gerald and friends come face to face with the murderer in an ancient Roman crypt filled with elaborate traps intended to prevent the theft of a diamond casket filled with a mysterious gold rod. In the end, the villain escapes, and Gerald learns of a mysterious family secret, nicely setting up readers for the second volume, The Emerald Casket.

     Buy multiple copies and expect reserves for this title, which should appeal to fans of Blue Balliett’s The Calder Game (2008) and Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider series.

Highly Recommended.

Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children’s Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.

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

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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