The Blurb On The Back:
Agatha Oddly: No case too odd …
Agatha Oddlow’s just stumbled across her next big case … a murder at the British Museum.
But as Agatha starts to dig beneath the surface she begins to suspect that a wider plot is afoot below London – a plot involving a disused Tube station, a huge fireworks display and five thousand tonnes of gold bullion.
Luckily, Agatha’s on the trail …
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s 5 weeks after AGATHA ODDLY: THE SECRET KEY and almost the end of the summer holidays.
Agatha’s nervously waiting to begin the 3 Trials that she must pass in order to join the Gatekeepers’ Guild and finally get the information on what her mother was looking into before her death in a road accident. In the meantime, she’s started taking martial arts lessons with Mr Zhang and is hanging out with best friends Liam Lau and Brianna Pike.
But then Agatha spots a news alert about a murder at the British Museum and the theft of an artefact and just knows that this is a case only she can solve. Ignoring Professor D’Oliveira’s warnings not to use her mother’s key to access the Guild’s tunnels crisscrossing beneath London, she dives straight into the case and comes into contact with dastardly thieves and even a mole within the Guild itself but perhaps the most serious threat she has to contend with is closer to home …
The second in the AGATHA ODDLY TRILOGY by Lena Jones (a pseudonym for the Tibor Jones Studio) for children aged 9+ is a ho-hum, formulaic mystery adventure where the murder mystery hook fades away in favour of the overriding story arc of the Gatekeepers’ Guild. Pacing is okay but the characterisation very thin and I have to say that I never believed in Agatha as a character as her reactions never ring true and the Poirot element is very gimmicky.
I hadn’t read AGATHA ODDLY: THE SECRET KEY before reading this, but Jones provides enough information for new readers to be able to follow what’s happened. I was surprised, however, when reading it because the back cover blurb makes it seem like the central plot to this novel relates to the murder at the British Museum and Agatha’s investigation of who’s responsible but while that forms the starting point for the story it quickly gets forgotten as the action switches to the Trials that Agatha has to undergo to become a Guild agent. I understand why that storyline needs to be addressed in the overall context of the trilogy but it does dominate proceedings and it’s not what the book is sold as being (which is not the authors’ fault but is still disappointing). One specific gripe I finished the book with is that you actually don’t find out who murdered the British Museum worker, although you do find out why they died and it’s all so dismissive that I kinda wondered why they even bothered with the murder because it’s handled so cheaply.
The Guild storyline also suffers from being incredibly formulaic. The Trials themselves are all variations on code breaking, which I didn’t find particularly interesting and are all dealt with in a perfunctory manner. When Agatha does become an agent, it’s pretty predictable what’s going to happen (and to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure why it was such a big deal about Agatha telling Brianna when it’s obvious that the Guild already knows that Liam knows of their organisation).
The book also suffers from the fact that the side character are so thinly drawn. Mr Zhang felt dangerously close to stereotype to me – a cliched mix of Mr Miyagi and Shifu, while Sofia Solokov is just an older version of the already cliched Sarah Rathbone. I didn’t get any sense of personality from either Brianna or Liam who are pretty much interchangeable sidekicks and while there are some nods to the immense privilege that they have care of their rich parents, Jones focuses instead on how much they each emotionally suffer for it and that “poor little rich kid’ thing is quite difficult for many readers to relate to.
Ultimately though I never bought into Agatha as a 13-year-old girl because nothing about her rings true. She’s got a photographic memory and the ability to “Change Channels” when she needs to focus on something but didn’t recognise a (pretty obvious) Guild Member who tries to warn her off at one point in the investigation and then for someone who loves codes, she goes very cold on the idea of doing code breaking for homework. And although these are nitpicky comments, emotionally I found her difficult to believe in as well, e.g. there’s a scene where her father reveals that he’s thinking of taking a job in Cornwall and although I did believe in Agatha’s initial upset at the thought of leaving her friends and the Guild behind, within a couple of days she’s then apologising to her dad for her less than enthusiastic reaction and saying she just wants him to be happy and that just didn’t ring true – I’d have rather had her been furious and resentful and recognising her bad reaction and owning it than just meekly getting over it.
The pacing is okay – everything trots along at a steady pace but it does all get very rushed towards the end as Jones has to reveal why the murder was committed and who the mole in the Guild is. Some questions are left open, e.g. who has been assisting the mole in committing their crimes and who killed Agatha’s mum (and why) but that all ties in with the fact that these are storylines for the overriding arc.
Ultimately, I can’t say that this is a bad book because it runs along fine it’s just that none of the beats here are a surprise, none of the characters are really elevated enough for me, the plot runs to a formula and I was a little ticked off that a murder which should be viewed as an awful act but here is really just a plot point aside that Agatha doesn’t really seem to care about beyond having something to solve and doesn’t even merit a named perpetrator. It’s fine for what it is but I can’t say I’d rush to read the other two books.
Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.