Criminal to ignore

14th October 2005 at 01:00
FLUSH. By Carl Hiaasen. Doubleday pound;12.99

FRAMED. By Frank Cottrell Boyce. Macmillan pound;9.99

CHASING VERMEER. By Blue Balliett. Illustrated by Brett Helquist. Chicken House pound;9.99

LADY VIOLET WINTERS: The Secret of the Crocodiles. By Karen Wallace. Simon Schuster pound;5.99

Fiona Lafferty selects fiction for upper primary and beyond

Second novels for children from Carl Hiaasen and Frank Cottrell Boyce - writers both known primarily for their adult work - show they are not one-hit wonders. Fans of their warm, funny first books will be delighted.

Flush, by Carl Hiaasen, follows the wonderful Hoot and, like Hoot, is set in Florida, with an ecologically-minded plot. Noah's hot-headed father is in jail for having taken the law into his own hands. He has sunk a large gambling boat anchored in the harbour, furious that its money-grabbing owner is getting away with pumping raw sewage into the water, which finds its way to a breeding ground for turtles and a beach frequented by children. He refuses to be bailed, preferring to talk to the press from prison, which he hopes will raise awareness and get the boat's owner prosecuted.

When the salvaged boat continues its illegal dumping, it is left to Noah and his younger sister Abbey to expose the crime, which they do in an original and highly amusing way. Hiaasen tells a great story brilliantly.

His blend of humour and pathos and his cast of eccentric, but credible characters make this a compelling read for children aged 10 and above.

The same warmth and understated humour pervades Frank Cottrell Boyce's Framed, which comes hot on the heels of his Carnegie Medal-winning Millions. Dylan's family runs a struggling garage at the end of a road at the foot of a mountain in Manod - a Welsh town so remote it isn't even signposted. Trade is not brisk and Dylan logs every car that stops. So when a black BMW heads up the mountain road followed by a red Nissan and two white Combi vans, Ninja Turtle fan Dylan's note reads: "Cowabunga!". The vans contain paintings from the National Gallery, which are being evacuated to the mines above Manod because of floods in London. The wonderfully constructed plot ducks and dives, resulting in a plan to steal a work of art to claim the insurance to save the family business. Based on the hiding of paintings during the Second World War, this is another absolute cracker for 11-year-olds and over.

Isn't it always the way: you don't see an art novel for years and then two come along at once. The beautifully produced Chasing Vermeer is an original and enchanting story about an intriguing mystery involving another major art theft. Three anonymous letters, a set of mathematical puzzles and a book recording strange coincidences bring together Petra and Calder, the two quirky protagonists, their teacher Miss Hussey and an old lady called Mrs Sharpe, whose husband was an expert on Vermeer.

After Petra dreams about the painting "A Lady Writing" by Vermeer, it goes missing and an unusual ransom note appears in a national paper. The idea is based on the premise that some of the paintings attributed to Vermeer were not actually by him, and the ransom note demands that the public correctly attributes just 26 of the 36 "Vermeers" in order to save this one. The plot hinges on coincidence and patterns, with clues in the pictures to help the reader solve the mystery. I couldn't work it out, but no doubt the 10 to 12-year-olds at whom the book is aimed will fare better.

The Secret of the Crocodiles is a light and charming adventure, one of a series set in the Edwardian era. Lady Violet is with her family for Christmas on the Nile in Egypt, joined by Garth, the young American ward of her father's. A visit to a bazaar in Cairo gets them caught up in a mystery involving callous tomb-raiders and illicit traffic in Egyptian artefacts.

Shades of Indiana Jones, with a hint of Agatha Christie make this an enjoyable read for nine-year-olds and above.

Fiona Lafferty is librarian at St Swithun's Junior School, Winchester

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