The Penalty. By Mal Peet. Walker Books pound;6.99
Mal Peet's experience as a contributor to the Oxford Literacy Web has taught him the importance of pulling in the young reader by the lapels, or the hoodie strings, with an irresistible story. His novels for older readers (Keeper; Tamar, which won the Carnegie Medal this year; and now The Penalty) share a strong narrative drive and edge-of-the-seat action as an entree to the big ideas beyond. The Penalty is the second adventure set in Latin America featuring jaded sports writer Paul Faustino, a likeable out-of-his-depth hack turned sleuth. It is a tale of murder, corruption, cruelty, faith and redemption with a light dusting of football. Faustino's search for a missing teenage soccer star is entwined with the story of a boy who grows up in slavery, survives through his skills as a healer, worships his tribal ancestors and bides his time for nearly three centuries. Impossible to put down once picked up.