The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie. By Jaclyn Moriarty. Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic. $16.99.
Vanishing Act: Mystery at the
It’s arguable whether there are second acts in life, but there are certainly second acts, and third ones, and more, in writing. Come up with something that works, and an author will be tempted – nay, urged by his or her publisher – to produce more of the same. As in moviemaking, a return to the tried-and-true formula tends to become, well, formulaic, although fans of original books (or movies) can often be induced to return for follow-ups that are, at best, not quite as good.
Both these books are all right, and existing fans of the authors will enjoy them, but neither book is likely to create a stampede of new readers. The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie is the cleverer of the two, being written entirely in diary entries, letters, E-mails and similar forms. Designated a “companion” book to Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Year of Secret Assignments, which used the same kind of format and was highly original in doing so, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie is a case of more of the same. Much more, in fact – it runs nearly 500 pages. Bindy is that super-wonderful high-school girl that everyone loves to hate, and everyone does. It’s easy to see why: she has such a perfect, and perfectly nasty, way of encapsulating everyone in her orbit. One example: “A group of people were [sic] standing by the window at the far end of the room. Six people. Toby, Emily, Briony,
Vanishing Act is mercifully shorter, at fewer than 300 pages, and is a fast read for preteens and teens interested in sports – specifically, tennis. It is a sequel to John Feinstein’s first murder mystery for young readers, Last Shot: A Final Four Mystery, which was a fast read for preteens and teens interested in sports – specifically, basketball. Feinstein’s niche is certainly clear enough. The first book was about an attempt to fix the championship game at the NCAA Final Four. The two crusading teen journalists and aspiring sportswriters who uncovered that plot, Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson, find themselves investigating a kidnapping in Vanishing Act. A young Russian tennis star, and potential superstar, suddenly disappears in a way that seems impossible. The teens aren’t the only ones on this case – there’s a media frenzy, which Feinstein handles knowledgeably, and professional journalists as well as law-enforcement personnel are on top of the story. The eventual plots-within-plots unraveling is clever, but it is also highly manipulative on Feinstein’s part. Feinstein is a longtime sports writer and author of sports-related books for adults, and he clearly loves the games he portrays. But readers may feel he doesn’t play entirely fairly with them.