January 14, 2010


Calendar Mysteries: #1—January Joker; #2—February Friend. By Ron Roy. Random House. $4.99 each.

Scurvy Goonda. By Chris McCoy. Knopf. $16.99.

The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus, Book Three: The Resurrection Fields. By Brian Keaney. Knopf. $16.99.

     Series begin and series end, but there are always more series coming along to replace the old ones. Calendar Mysteries is a new series – presumably intended to last 12 books – featuring the younger siblings of the kids featured in the A to Z Mysteries series. Twins Bradley and Brian Pinto and their friends Lucy and Nate solve non-threatening mysteries in these Stepping Stone Books for ages 6-9. There is certainly nothing scary (or, for that matter, especially mysterious) about the goings-on, but Ron Roy makes them interesting enough to pull in kids in the target age range – and offers a few twists and turns along the way of the simple narratives. January Joker features three-toed tracks in the snow, the possibility of aliens in the town of Green Lawn, and the mysterious (well, sort of mysterious) disappearance of several relatives of the young sleuths. February Friend focuses on Valentine’s Day – and a mysterious (again, sort of mysterious) gift to the kids’ class of a rabbit in a cage. The first book’s solution turns on a kind of trickster-tricked ploy, while the second’s, a little more substantially, involves a petting zoo that may have to close. There is nothing profound in either book, but both are pleasant enough, and young readers who identify with the characters will enjoy following their adventures.

     Scurvy Goonda is for older readers – ages 10 and up – and is also the start of a series, although this one is only intended to last two books. The premise here is refreshingly offbeat: abstract companions or ab-coms (that is, imaginary friends) really exist in a land of their own, called Middlemost. The title character is the ab-com of Ted Merritt, who has somehow grown to teenagerhood without ever abandoning his made-up childhood playmate. Scurvy is the sort of ab-com many young boys would enjoy – an old-time pirate who is fearless and mischievous, always getting into trouble – and he has a quirk that is supposed to make him especially endearing: a great fondness for bacon. But now that Ted is in high school, Scurvy is holding him back socially, so the pirate has to go – which turns out not to be so simple. For Ted’s decision ends up bringing him to Middlemost, which is ruled by a parrot skeleton who is determined to make war on the human race. Chris McCoy’s book is every bit as silly as it sounds, and McCoy seems to take particular delight in coming up with odd ab-coms that sport strange names: Scozzbottle, Dr. Narwhal, Fyrena and Wockgrass all show up on a single page. The plot is somewhat creakier than the style, though. It is really no surprise when a character called Joelle-Michelle whispers to Ted, “You are more important than you ever imagined.” Nor is it surprising that Scurvy speaks like this: “Can’t wait tah talk and talk and talk until tha end of time.” Still, a book that includes a character named Bugslush and an “experiment on a rugby player afflicted with the Greenies” has a lot to recommend it – such amusing touches do a great deal to make up for writing that includes the line, “If President Skeleton’s army made it through, Earth didn’t have a chance.”

     And speaking of chances, few seem to be left for Dante Cazabon and Beatrice Argenti, protagonists of the series called The Promises of Dr. Sigmundus, as the third and final book, The Resurrection Fields, begins. In this novel, for ages 12 and up, Dante and Bea are fighting rule by mind control, and Dante in particular is losing his body – which is being taken over by a kind of creature of the id called Orobas. Indeed, Dante – his body, that is – becomes Sigmundus the Second, successor to the deceased Dr. Sigmundus, through Orobas’ manipulation. But Dante’s true self has survived Orobas’ onslaught and found a receptive host in a small bird that just happens to have a great deal of knowledge – including information on how to defeat Orobas. The Resurrection Fields – the title refers to a place from which the dead rise to go to other realms – would be a poor entry point to this series, which really needs to be read from the start in order to understand its mixture of SF, fantasy and horror themes. But Brian Keaney does pull his threads together with some skill in this concluding novel. There are plenty of portentous comments here, such as: “Everyone has a tormentor. …You just haven’t met him yet.” But some of them descend into cliché: “Alvar was no ordinary man. …I knew him well, and I promise you, he could see things that had not yet happened.” And: “Yes, my friends, there are traitors among us.” In truth, the combination of elements of different genres does not always gel particularly well, and the book’s conclusion is a touch too glib and not wholly unexpected. Still, The Resurrection Fields is a satisfying conclusion to the Dr. Sigmundus novels, and most fans of the first two books will not be disappointed in it.

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