Steel Trapp by Ridley Pearson

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Steel Trapp by Ridley Pearson

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A boy gets entangled in a potential terrorist threat when an errant briefcase comes to his attention. Not the most realistic of tales, but one certainly told with an enjoyable pace and enough style to make it worth recommending.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Quercus
ISBN: 978-1847244314

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Steven 'Steel' Trapp is a likeable young teenage boy, on a cross-US train ride to enter a national science competition. He claims not to be completely smart, but does have total and instant recall. So when he sees a woman leave his train without the briefcase she entered it with, he leaps to help. She in turn refuses to have anything to do with the briefcase, which troubles Steel somewhat. Little did he know the true extent to which that trouble can extend.

We soon work out for ourselves the woman was a mule, trying merely to leave the case for someone else to collect. When he in turn is hampered by the Trapp boy hiding the briefcase until he works out what to do with it, the attention of the woman, the man, and sundry different arms of the American police system are all turned to the case. And, unfortunately for Steel, they soon get interested in him himself, leaving his mother a fragile hanger-on, and his father so far out of the picture, seeming to have dropped all interest in the Trapp family.

Thus is the thriller set up, and quite a thrilling ride it is. Looking like a really bulky 300 pages and more, it races by, due to the large print, multitude of chapter breaks, and sheer urgency to the telling. Using what are debatable flash-backs it sets up the scenario, then plays it out at a fully energetic thrust, which carries the reader on, although there are few real cliff-hangers to be met.

And on the whole it remains a realistic book. Steel and the other characters are all well-grounded in the story, none doing anything too unlikely. His smarts don't extend too far, and we can empathise with him as he gets entangled in the plot – not knowing right from wrong, or who is to be trusted, until it is far too late and things are out of his hands.

Not only that, the thriller is pretty much on the button. There are enough twists and turns, and examples of lively imagination, before Trapp is forced to get involved potentially too much in the story of the briefcase and some of its contents. While this loses a little realism towards the end, and some huge contrivances need a little glossing over from the reader (and a missing entry in the science competition is so obviously being hidden right under our noses as it were), I would have it the book would easily entertain the target audience – the 10-14 year olds, without them dismissing anything as unlikely.

That is, were it not for the mistakes at the beginning, particularly concerning dates – Steel's sweatshirt has the science fest's dates a week late, and this May has Fridays on both the 13th and the 30th, apparently. The proof-reader let some peculiarly unnecessary hyphenations go before putting their coffee down properly.

There are some holes in the story, too – much mention is made of the briefcase being put in a potentially smelly place, but no-one remarks on it being soiled (completely ironic, given the scenes with Trapp's science fest entry – and would that work with a leather case anyway?). Two whizz-kid minds are set to cracking a tiny code overnight, and no mention is made of their failure the following morning.

Yet I consider this book to have enough riches for the right reader, and I can imagine the constructing of a thriller as competent and readable enough as this for such an audience is not the easiest task. I noted Disney had a hand in the publication of this book in America, and I think it should certainly be read before a mawkish, unlikely and blandly family-friendly film version is made from it.

The case of the case as featured in Steel Trapp is well worth considering for some PG action fun for the younger thriller reader, and gets a good Bookbag recommendation. We would like to thank Quercus for sending us a review copy.

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