Sunday, 6 December 2009
Review: Escape From Shadow Island by Paul Adam
Max is an ordinary north London schoolboy by day, but at night he performs sell-out public shows as an escapologist - nicknamed The Half-Pint Houdini by the tabloid press. His father, Alexander, was also a world-renowned escapologist, who disappeared two years earlier in the Central American state of Santo Domingo. His body was never found, but Max's mother, Helen, was convicted of murdering her husband by a Santo Domingan court. One evening, after his show, Max receives a visit from a mysterious man from Santo Domingo - Lopez-Vega tells Max that his mother's trial was rigged and, if Max comes to his hotel room the following night, he has something to give him.When Max goes to the hotel, he finds Lopez-Vega dead, shot through the head. The room has clearly been searched by the killer, but what was he looking for? By chance, Max finds a piece of paper hidden under Lopez-Vega's wig. Written on the paper is a sequence of eight numbers - 83521113. What do the numbers mean? Are they a code, or maybe the combination for a lock or a safe? Could they be the key to unlocking the mystery of his father's disappearance and getting his mother out of prison?
Before you read this book, a word of warning - don't read it expecting an action-packed climax to end the story as you won't get one. This is the first in a series of books featuring Max Cassidy's hunt for his supposedly dead father, thereby also clearing his other of his father's murder; as such this is the first episode in that quest and you will have to wait until book two (and possibly even book three?) are published to find out whether Max is ever successful in this. When I read it I hadn't realised this, and it was only as I reached the final chapters that I worked out that there was no way the story would be finished in the remaining few pages. I love serial books, I just wish that the publishers had made it more clear that this was the first in a series.
That one small gripe aside, this was a hugely enjoyable book that the majority of boys will love. Refreshingly, unlike Alex Rider, the CHERUB series, etc., Max is a hero without the backing of a government agency; in fact, it seems he may even have a British spy agency working against him in his quest. Max's part-time profession as an escapologist is also a nice new idea; Mr Adam cleverly uses one of Max's stage performances, as well as Max's reminiscences about his childhood with his father to fill us in on Max's abilities in the field of escapology. I was initially concerned that his skills in this area would be over-used by the author to help get Max out of all kinds of completely unrealistic situations. Fortunately, these fears were totally unfounded; in fact, I was almost disappointed that Max didn't use these abilities more throughout the story. However, this made the story all the more realistic, and also leaves many more opportunities for Max to demonstrate his talents in the next books in the series.
Escape From Shadow Island is a fast paced story, full of great action scenes. However, it is not non-stop thrills as the author also manages to intersperse these full-on action scenes with moments of great tension. The characterisation is good and the dialogue is spot-on.
Overall, an enjoyable read marred only by the poor ending. I appreciate that this is the first in the series but other authors such as Joe Craig, Derek Landy and Mark Walden managed to bring their first-in-series books to much better and more satisfying conclusions; Paul Adam has written a number of novels for the adult market and therefore should have been able to manage this.