________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 34. . . .May 2, 2014


The Show to End All Shows. (Master Melville’s Medicine Show, Bk. 2).

Cary Fagan.
Toronto, ON: Puffin/Penguin Canada, 2014.
278 pp., hardcover, $17.00.
ISBN 978-0-670-06586-8.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Todd Kyle.

**** /4



Sullivan didn’t consider himself a brave person, certainly not a heroic one. He knew that Lilly Reilly was trapped in the hidden compartment of the Vanishing Box. He felt the awful guilt of having given up her name. He didn’t think, didn’t consider his own welfare, didn’t weigh the risks and consequences. He just moved.


He grasped Lilly’s hand and started to run. Past an astonished Frederick in the wings, and behind the caravan. He headed for the woods. Lilly stumbled but recovered and kept up with him, their hands still locked.

They reached the first trees, where the snow was suddenly deeper. Here the branches were frosted with ice, like endless Christmas trees, and even in his panic Sullivan thought they were beautiful. That was his last thought before the Black Death stepped out from behind an evergreen, swinging a cast-iron pan.


In this conclusion to the series and sequel to The Boy in the Box, Sullivan Mintz is still trapped, travelling from town to town in a caravan to perform in the “medicine show” for which Master Melville has kidnapped him and three other children. When the Master decides the show needs another chess player to replace Clarence, who can no longer fit into the “automaton” chess machine, he tricks Sullivan into giving him information to help him find Lilly Reilly, a young chess player they once encountered at a performance. With Lilly’s help, the group slowly solve the mystery of the Melvilles’ motives, leading the couple to agree to let them go after one “final performance” they do not intend as such. Meanwhile, Sullivan’s sister Jinny and senior citizen friend Manny continue their search for him, joined now by the families of the rest of the abductees, finally freeing them at the performance in question.

     As with the first book, The Show To End All Shows is a highly adventurous, action-packed, charming book filled with spectacular storytelling and fascinating characters. The reader becomes engrossed in a far-fetched yet elegantly woven story, feeling every disappointment of near-rescue and of poorly executed performance. Again, the performances take centre stage in the children’s lives, with thoughts of returning home often pushed into the background. This push-pull of yearning to perform well yet pining for home, of learning to love the troupe yet both wanting and needing their real families, of detesting the Melvilles yet striving to please them, is presented with the crystal clarity that only a master storyteller, speaking through wise young people, could invoke. The tension’s balance is wonderfully tilted by the arrival of the rebellious Lilly, a perfect occurrence to keep the story going and readers’ empathy for the kids almost at a breaking point.

     The final rescue and family reunion is the only thing that breaks the tension, but again some ambivalence creeps in. Frederick is not certain he wants to return to his foster family. The Master is almost classy after his arrest, convincing everyone to let the children finish the performance, pronouncing his noble intentions for all to hear, and attempting a foiled escape with the Mistress. Throughout it all, the discovery of the couple’s elaborate plot and motives for the whole affair is highly engrossing, with parallel discoveries at both ends, the abductees and Sullivan’s family, including his mother who spends hours researching at the library. In the end, it seems, life is a performance, and our comfortable existence is but a tiny part of what’s out there to discover.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.