CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2016
The Missing Skull. (The Seven Prequels).
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2016.
156 pp., pbk., pdf & epub, $9.95 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-4598-1158-4 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-4598-1159-1 (pdf), ISBN 978-1-4598-1160-7 (epub).
Grades 4-7 / Ages 9-12.
Review by Amber Allen.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“Oh no,” Grandfather says with a grin. “I doubt if the mystery of how Tom Thomson dies can ever be solved now, so long after the event.”
I’m about to ask where the fun is in a mystery that can’t be solved when he goes on. “There’s another mystery, a much more recent one that I was involved in, and that’s the mystery I’ve brought you up here to solve.”
It takes me a moment to realize what Grandfather is saying. “You’ve brought me up here to solve a mystery?”
Grandfather’s grin broadens. “You didn’t think I would bring you all the way up here just to sit by the lake and listen to my old stories, did you?”
When Steve’s grandfather, an eccentric old man with quite the storied past, commits to taking each of his grandsons on an adventure, Steve can’t help but be a little disappointed by the prospect of his trip to a remote lake in Northern Ontario. After all, his twin brother DJ got to go to Central America, and Steve was trying to work out how to convince his mother to let him go to a Foo Fighter’s concert. His attitude quickly changes, however, when he finds out that his grandfather has actually brought him into the secluded woods to solve a mystery tailor-made for him. After an introductory story about the famous painter Tom Thomson and his enigmatic death, Steve is left alone to follow the clues that lead to the dead artist’s skull. Only, things go off the rails soon after the search begins, and Steve finds himself navigating the difficult environment of land and lake, at times running from or chasing a dangerous duo that have kidnapped his elderly chaperone while desperately trying to figure out if any of it is actually part of his grandfather’s original plan.
In only 156 pages, John Wilson successfully creates a series of layered mysteries each more compelling than the last – from “Why did grandfather choose a cabin in the woods?” to “Who are these villains?” – the reader is always right there with Steve trying to figure out the situation. The scattered clues and diverse cast of characters allow for a few theories to evolve, but the ending is not predictable.
Though at times repetitive, The Missing Skull is a story that blends history with current popular culture in a way that will appeal to tweens looking for an adventure story. As The Missing Skull is part of the “Seven Prequels” series, readers who are already familiar with Steve will enjoy the voice and humour they already associate with him, but new readers will have no problem engaging with the story from page one. Children new to this group of books could even start with this one before moving on to 2012’s Lost Cause and 2014’s Broken Arrow. It is worth mentioning that this story covers a different type of history and is unrelated to its precursors in all but the character Steve and his family. Having the opportunity to meet the compelling grandfather character in this book is definitely appreciated as he exists only in notes and flashbacks in the others.
The Missing Skull is a great, fast-paced read. A perfect addition to any summer reading list.
Amber Allen is a librarian in Toronto, ON, with a passion for children’s literature and writing.
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