CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 21. . . .January 31, 2014
The Mystery of the Russian Ransom. (Screech Owls).
Toronto, ON: Tundra Books, 2014.
156 pp., pbk. & epub, $9.99 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77049-420-6 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77049-425-1 (epub).
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
I went out in total silence. How different from heading out with your teammates. No crowd, not even a few parents, to cheer you. No opposing team to measure. No whacks on the shin pads and butt from your teammates. No team yell before the puck drops.
The fresh ice glistened. I skated around with my head down, just watching my new Easton skates make lovely parallel lines on the ice. I dug in hard in the corners to see if I had my usual jump. I did. It felt good to be back doing what I love most of all.
I checked out the arena, the penalty box, the benches. There were cameras, too, set every so often down both sides of the rink and in the corners. I couldn’t tell if they were on.
What do they want of me?
When Russian billionaire Ivan Petrov offers to pay for the Screech Owls to visit Russia, all the members of the team are thrilled. The only requirement is that they are to play hockey to show the North American game to the Russians.
Petrov loves hockey and actively supports the Russian junior hockey program. One area where the Russians are not competitive with the rest of the world, however, is their women’s hockey program, and Petrov has an idea how to improve it. He thinks that one of the reason women’s hockey is so much stronger in North America is because girls often play with the boys. This is the case with the Screech Owls – three of their strongest players are girls. Petrov hopes that when the Russians see how good the Screech Owls are with their female players, changes will be made to the Russian women’s hockey program.
The team is excited about their adventure until one of their star players, Sarah, is kidnaped after their first practice. Who would want to kidnap Sarah and why? Is the kidnaping a ploy to sabotage Petrov’s plans, or is there a more sinister motive involved? Travis and his teammates have a mystery to solve, a game to play and a score to settle.
The “Screech Owl” series has been a mainstay for the middle years reader for over a decade for good reason. MacGregor brings the passion of hockey to the mystery genre. The hockey scenes are fast-paced with slick stick handling, smooth skating, and sweet passing. Anyone who has spent time in a hockey rink will recognize the distinctive smells and sounds described – as well as the equipment brands and rituals the Screech Owls use.
The mystery is not complex but acts as a vehicle to provide opportunities for the characters to interact with one another outside the rink. MacGregor has created an interesting team of characters with a mix of genders, ethnic backgrounds, attitudes, and he even includes one player with a disability. Character development is one of MacGregor’s strengths. Each of his characters has his or her own personality, and this makes the team and off-ice interactions much more believable. It also allows the author to focus on specific characters as needed in each of his books to develop his plotlines.
Although most of the “Screech Owls” books are told in a limited third person narrative, in The Mystery of the Russian Ransom, MacGregor alternates between Sarah’s voice, through the use of a journal, and team captain Travis’ perspective of the events. This was an excellent choice as it allows the reader to follow Sarah’s captivity while still continuing the momentum of the primary plot.
The Mystery of the Russian Ransom is not one of MacGregor’s stronger mysteries. Indeed, it could be argued that the story may have been stronger without the kidnaping component. I feel MacGregor missed an opportunity to explore the cultural differences and similarities between Russia and Canada. He spent some time setting the historical stage by describing the hockey history between the countries, and this could have provided some rich context to his tale. In the end, however, he missed the net by passing the play to some decidedly out-of-date stereotypes.
However, for the boys and girls who love hockey, MacGregor is a must-read author.
Jonine Bergen is a librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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