Tuesday, February 27, 2018


HOW NOT TO STOP A KIDNAP PLOT by Suzanne Main (Scholastic, 2017)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

Michael is on a mission. After a run-in with his sworn enemy, Angus, Michael’s brilliant payback plan BACKFIRES. Now he’s in the school production–as a tree–his WORST NIGHTMARE! When Michael discovers a twisted KIDNAP PLOT, his troubles soon multiply. It’s obvious that rich-kid Angus is the target. Can Michael and his motley bunch of mates solve the kidnap mystery and destruct a planet-threatening plan BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE? A high-tech adventure by the award-winning author of How I Alienated My Grandma.

My love affair with mystery stories began three decades ago with the Hardy Boys books, before flowing through Agatha Christie and Nils Olof Franzen as a keen adolescent reader. But I don't tend to read much if any juvenile or young adult fiction anymore. Maybe I should, as I loved the David Wallaims and Matt Haig books I read as 'palate cleansers' last year among crime judging and reviewing, and I was also delighted by this recent read from Kiwi kids author Suzanne Main.

There's a misperception in some circles that writing for kids is 'easier' than writing for adults, perhaps because the language may not be as complex or the plotlines not quite so multi-layered or the themes not so subtle or nuanced. Frankly, that's bullshit. Many young readers are very smart and can cope with all sorts of content and plot twists, and the crime authors who try to cater to them need to deliver not only compelling plotlines packed with mystery and intrigue, but engaging characters that resonated with the younger readership, while also offering humour and not patronising the readers.

Across the board, Suzanne Main delivers with HOW NOT TO STOP A KIDNAP PLOT.

This tale sees the return of young high schoolers Michael and Elvis from Main's award-winning debut (HOW I ALIENATED MY GRANDMA). They're an engaging pair of friends, struggling to negotiate all the trials and tribulations of growing up as suburban kids. Needing revenge on his stuck-up schoolmate Angus, Michael plots a suitable prank, only to end up imprisoned as a tree in the high school production. When he overhears a kidnap plot, he assumes that Angus - his mortal enemy, sort of - is in danger. So what does a young man do? Should he try to save his foe, or let whatever happens happen. Would anyone believe the outrageous story anyway, after the prank Michael pulled?

It's a tricky spot for Michael and Elvis, made even trickier as they try to protect Angus without letting him, or any parents or teachers, know of the kidnap plot. As their best efforts just make the situation even worse, they're forced to confront some real-life criminals who are up to no good.

But who is behind it all? Can the kids be safe if they don't find out?

This was a great read that made me smile throughout. I loved the characters of Michael and Elvis, along with Angus and the other school kids. There was a great sense of the confusion, good intentions and embarrassing outcomes that often occur during adolescence. There are laugh out loud moments in among plenty of mystery and intrigue. Main salts in plenty of modern touches (eg spibots, drones, computer technology) that will fascinate younger readers, alongside timeless themes of being a youngster, having good friends and adventures, and being worried about how you're seen by others.

Just a great read, whether you're a keen kid or an adult who wants to mix up your menu.

Craig Sisterson is a lapsed lawyer who writes features for newspapers and magazines in several countries. In recent years he has interviewed 200 crime writers, discussed the genre onstage at books festivals on three continents, on national radio and popular podcasts, and has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards, the McIlvanney Prize, and is the founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards. You can heckle him on Twitter: @craigsisterson

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