________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 24. . . .February 26, 2016


Master Minds: Criminal Destiny.

Gordon Korman.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2016.
311 pp., hardcover, $17.99.
ISBN 978-1-44342-876-7.

Grades 4-8 / Ages 9-13.

Review by Todd Kyle.

***1/2 /4


I’m yelling my head off in agony and exertion. My grip on the side of the truck is what’s keeping everybody from falling. Amber’s howling, Tori’s weeping. You can barely hear any of it over the shriek of the cutting blades.

I don’t know how it happens. One minute, I’m clamped to the side; the next, I’m not. We’re skidding along the dumper, still attached to one another, but heading down toward the lethal blades. We’re going to die and all I can think is it’s my fault.

In the noise and chaos, we never hear the hydraulic motor that closes the truck’s back flap. The next thing I know, Amber yelps in pain, as the three of us fall on top of her, crushing her against the metal barrier that has just saved our lives.

The bed is coming down again, lowering to horizontal. My heartbeat, though, is anything but normal. We were so close to being dead. If the back flap had stayed open a split second longer...

We’re clones who came from nothing and no one, and we would have been gone as if we never existed.


In this second installment of the “Masterminds” series, four escapees from Project Osiris, a cloning experiment in a too-perfect New Mexico town, find themselves pursued by the Project’s security forces known as the Surety. Using their wits and will to survive, they embark on a highly-charged race to outrun the Surety, avoid the authorities, and seek witnesses and allies to help them expose the Project to the world. Stonewalled by Project’s estranged billionaire backer, they instead focus on meeting with the least dangerous of the criminal masterminds they are cloned from, swindler C. J. Rackoff. Tracking him down to a Texas prison, they meet up with another escapee, Hector, who helps them concoct a wild scheme to free him from jail, his price for providing testimony of having sold his DNA to the Project. But Hector betrays them and leads them to the Surety. The four outwit their pursuers and escape in a hijacked helicopter to continue their flight.

     As with the first installment, Masterminds, Criminal Destiny is a taut psychological thriller, but it places much more emphasis on action than on the eerie mirror of suburban life presented in the first book as the four learned of the reason for their idyllic childhoods. The action, though, is unflinchingly tight, fast-paced, and absorbing, unrolling with such speed and flow that the reader suspends all disbelief, even when at times the plot borders on the implausible. When Amber, the most authority-respecting of the group, attempts to report their situation to the police in Denver, she is arrested and sent for psychological review, a slightly over-the-top reaction that, nonetheless, sets the stage for their whirlwind escape from Denver aboard a tree-clearing backhoe (leading to their almost-death at the waste depot depicted in the excerpt).

     But the psychological is still present: each character examines his or her own actions, and the actions of the rest, in light of learning which criminal each is cloned from. Is it nature or nurture? Are they doomed to become criminals, or are they just forced into using their inherited skills to survive in a world full of enemies? Even their reaction to the poverty and crime of central Denver is telling: some even wonder aloud whether their controlled former lives were better. As with the previous book, Korman does an excellent job at exploring deep existential questions—even questions of corporate and government misdeeds—without sacrificing the attention and thrill of young readers.

     As with Masterminds, Criminal Destiny alternates between chapters from the point of view of each of the youth, exposing differing perspectives and voices. Because there is so much action and less introspection, readers might occasionally find themselves looking back to the chapter title to remind them who is the “I” at the moment. But in a very clever twist, Hector (whom they’d reluctantly left behind during their escape in the first book, thinking he was dead) pens a chapter where he talks of his bitterness at the foursome and how it led him to their effort to free Rackoff, without mentioning that his plan is to help the Surety capture them. When his real motivation is revealed, it comes as a complete surprise, even to the reader. Criminal Destiny is a story that is always at the edge of plausibility but that soars with action before it can be derailed.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and President of the Ontario Library Association.

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

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

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