________________ CM . . . . Volume XXI Number . . . .June 19, 2015


The Secret of the Golden Flower. (A Nicki Haddon Mystery).

Caroline Stellings.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2015.
176 pp., trade pbk. & epub, $11.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-927583-63-0 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927583-68-5 (epub).

Grades 6-10 / Ages 11-15.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


"So where is the spy school, Fenwick?" asked Nicki. "Downtown?"

The butler looked from side to side. "Not spy school," he replied in a whisper. "We in the Secret Intelligence Service refer to it as the 'non-field training headquarters.' "


"Let's just say that whereas your kung fu teachers have shown you how to knock someone out --"

"Only in self-defense, Fenwick."

"I see," he said. "Well then, whereas your martial arts instructors can show you how to, uh, restrain someone," he explained, "the agents at the non-field training headquarters teach you who to restrain and why."

Fenwick pulled Nicki's luggage from the carousel, then searched for his own. Heathrow Airport was at its busiest during the summer, with tourists flying in and out of London by the thousands.

At sixteen, Nicki Haddon had been in more international airports than most people ever visited in a lifetime, and Heathrow was one of the ones she frequented most often. But this arrival was different. This was the first time she was travelling anywhere as a newly recruited spy-in-training. She spent the almost eight-hour flight from Toronto wrapping her head around the idea, She hadn't hesitated to accept the invitation, but she knew she couldn't fully anticipate what lay ahead. But then, her kung fu training prepared her to be open to all eventualities.


Nicki Haddon, adopted Chinese daughter of a pair of American millionaires, kung fu expert, and recently recruited CSIS/CIA/MI5 agent, is back for her second adventure. The Secret of the Golden Flower, a sequel to The Scratch on the Ming Vase, gets off to a somewhat slow start as the author attempts to fill the reader in on her first encounter with international crime within the context of the plot of the present book, but the pace soon picks up. No sooner had Nicki and her parents' butler (also a secret agent) landed at Heathrow than she notices that she seems to have attracted the attention of a flower seller in the airport -- a flower seller who appears to be wearing $600 Gucci loafers! (Having a rich mother gives one insights into such things!) From there on, the story unfolds at breakneck speed with Nicki in the middle of all the action going, much of which has her using her martial-arts skills as well as her instincts and intelligence.

     There are some aspects of the story that require a high level of suspension of disbelief. The way that Nicki is immediately thrust into the middle of the criminal activities that relate to the very gangs that the spy-school instructors are lecturing on is necessary for the plot, but it is not obvious why it should happen. Her kung fu expertise is also quite extraordinary, an ability not made more credible by the inclusion of the names of the moves with which she manages to disarm and, in some cases, disable, her opponents. (This also reduces the impact of the tension of the fights.) However, the point of the story is its action-filled plot which keeps the pages practically flipping over of their own accord, making it a cracking good read. On to number three!


Mary Thomas lives in Winnipeg, MB, but she has passed through Heathrow many times without ever seeing a flower-seller's cart, though she wouldn't recognize Gucci loafers if she saw them with their labels still on them!

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

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