For this last group, who may be thinking about gifts for the younger readers in their circle as well, fear not--there are no Belfast sixpacks to be seen in this book, although there is battle and there is also death. But like other able crime writers who moonlight in the realm of children's literature, McKinty is quite capable of writing a tale of derring do and adventure that is suited to younger readers. Personally, I think this trilogy is a perfect recommendation for middle graders who have run through the Percy Jackson and Alex Rider books. What stood out for me in this first book on the sheer excitement level was a certain kind of sea going vessel that McKinty has dreamt up along with a wholly plausible way to fight it. The story in fact, cries out to be animated. It could really be quite stunning in the right hands.
Another strong point of the story from my perspective is that though two of the main characters are boys, there is also a female lead who is independent, capable and not always in agreement with the others on the best course of action. In other words, it's not all just battles and there should be plenty of elements that girls will relate to too.
But enough about child readers and the child reader in all of us. What's in it for adults? Some things that stood out to me were the fact that it's a story that really begins three times, and in three very different settings. We start in Harlem, and then we start again in Northern Ireland. The third start I'll leave for you to discover.
The main character, Jamie O'Neill has recently had to come to terms with losing a large part of his arm to cancer. But he has not only lost an arm, he's lost a father to the process, and at least for the time being has lost his ability to speak. I found the connection between these things fascinating to contemplate, the more so as the author does not give any facile explanation as to why this should be so. Jamie's muteness simply is. It is not sullenness, as Jamie does manage to communicate by other means. But there is some implication that speech comes out of wholeness and as the novel starts, Jamie has by no means been made whole again after his various losses, despite the fact that he has suddenly come into a pretty grand inheritance.
Another thing that is a true pleasure for the American reader is to get a new view of Northern Ireland, as we have all been filled with certain kinds of image of the place, even when the time for that image is long since past. Thanks to fellow blogger Philip Robinson, who shares a background and fondness for this part of the world with McKinty, we have a couple of old photos of the Northern Irish setting of one part of the story.
According to Philip, the following photo is captioned:
Port Muck and Muck Island.
There are puzzling remnants of a castle keep, above McClelland's farm, overlooking the harbour. The jetty was built 1827 when almost 100 herring boats fished these waters. Horse's cave on the island kept smuggled animals hidden while awaiting shipment.
And of the following, Philip says: "The second photo is of Blackhead lighthouse which is just a few miles down the coast - at the bottom end of Islandmagee, where Adrian's sister lives. He cleverly puts the lighthouse on the island in the story. And there is a shingle causeway out to the island which is only visible at very low tides.
By the way, Islandmagee is not an island but a peninsula about 5 miles east of Carrickfergus."
Thank you, Philip.
As for the rest, I think I'll leave the book some of its secrets. The truth is, I've already finished the sequel, which is also terrific and am pacing myself on the third as, well, that's the end, isn't it?