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Book Review: Steel Trapp – The Challenge by Ridley Pearson

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Steel Trapp: The Challenge appears to be the first book in a brand-new young readers series by bestselling author Ridley Pearson. Although Pearson writes the Lou Boldt suspense novels for adults, and has written stand-alone novels for the same market, Pearson is no stranger to the 9-12 year old readers. In fact, he’s a bestselling writer among that age group as well. Together, he and author Dave Barry have written three new books that further enhances the legend of Peter Pan, creating a whole new backstory that explains a lot about the characters, the world, and the magic that’s so much a part of the Peter Pan experience.

However, Steven “Steel” Trapp appears to be a new action hero. In addition to being a science geek extraordinaire, Steel also possesses a photographic memory. Once he’s seen something, he can remember it in vivid detail and never forgets anything. He’s got a memory like, well, a steel trap, which is where he gets his nickname. Other than that, Steel is pretty much a normal kid with normal kid issues. Thankfully, Pearson’s book isn’t about normal things.

The book takes off at a full gallop with Steel competing in a Science Fair in Washington D. C. There are about a zillion things going on and the tension ratchets up quickly. I was intrigued by Pearson’s choice of jumping in without really introducing his character, but I went along with it and trusted him. By the time I’d quickly zipped through this short, introductory chapter, I had about a million questions. But of the good variety.

Mostly I wanted to know how Steel had gotten into the fix he was in, what was in the mysterious briefcase everyone seemed to be looking for, and what was going to happen next! As a writer, those are all questions you want your readers asking in the opening acts.

Ridley doesn’t answer all those questions at once. Instead, the book moves back in time, picks up a mysterious FBI agent who’s having trouble with a plane that’s going down, and with Steel’s journey by train to the nation’s capitol. While on the train, Steel gets onto the trail of a group of terrorists when a briefcase is left behind by a woman. He knows it’s hers because his photographic memory points this out to him. But when he tries to give the briefcase back to her, she tells him he’s mistaken.

Admittedly, I thought the intro to the puzzle was a little outlandish, but it served to move the story along so I went with it. There are a few illogical twists and turns to the plot, but Pearson runs with it and pulls it together – if not completely, then with at least a rapid-fire pacing and a few twists.

I did have one big problem with the book, and that was with Steel not knowing his father was an FBI agent. Those guys get lots of phone calls and messages, have lots of files with them at all times. All it would have taken is one glance and the subterfuge would have been up. Also, guys that work undercover for the FBI are usually gone a lot longer at a time than Mr. Trapp appears to have been.

One of the things I did like was Pearson’s use of U. S. Marshal Roland Larson from his previous adult novel, Cut and Run. It’s nice to see that all of Pearson’s characters live in the same world, and you have to wonder if a boy with a photographic memory will soon put in an appearance in one of Pearson’s adult novels.

I liked Steel’s partner-in-peril, Kaileigh Augustine, a lot. The idea of a poor little rich girl isn’t a new one, but it establishes Kaileigh’s character and independence almost immediately. Plus, it gives her and Steel financial freedom of a sort with further adventures. I just hope Kaileigh is in them because Steel needs someone to play off of in order to work well.

The plot got almost a little too twisted and complex. It was relatively simple in the long run, but setting it up and moving through multiple permutations got difficult to deal with while juggling a half-dozen characters. But it kept me from solving everything till right at the end – which is exactly the best place for a reader that’s been playing fairly with the mystery to figure everything out.

I was surprised at how much the adults played roles in the novel, but it didn’t bother me too much over all. I would have liked to see Steel handle more action, and I definitely want to see more science in the books as the series progresses. Pearson does mention in interviews that the book began as an adult novel and he rewrote it from Steel’s point of view. It’ll be interesting to see how the adult/teen ratio changes in the next book in the series.

But I want Steel’s family to stay close as well. I liked his mom and dad, and the parts they had to play in everything. Cairo, Steel’s dog, was a hoot and I was cheering him on at the end when he caught the bad guy’s scent and they went flying after him.

Steel Trapp: The Challenge isn’t on the same level as Alex Horowitz’s Alex Rider series (which gets a nod in Pearson’s book!), but it’s a fun read. Since there’s only one teen spy book coming out a year from Horowitz, Pearson’s teen troubleshooter is a welcome addition to the adventure scene. You won’t find many writers that can provide the same kind of headlong pacing that Pearson does.

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