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An interesting premise falls victim to too-familiar plotting.
When Oz Keiller opens the refrigerator door at his family's restaurant and discovers the body of Aaron Sneider, he quickly finds he has also cracked the seal on a long-buried family secret: Years ago his father had been caught stealing nuclear secrets from Los Alamos. Oz teams up with his crime-show–obsessed best friend, Rusty, to hunt for evidence to prove his brother's innocence after his brother is arrested for a crime Oz knows he didn't commit. While interviewing his father's old colleagues and Aaron's contacts, Oz learns that his father may have been a scapegoat himself for a much larger conspiracy. Trying to craft a sophisticated plot with multiple suspects, Leonard unfortunately pulls too much from the same crime shows Rusty is obsessed with and gives the mystery away to savvy readers all too soon. Even though there's not much in the way of scene-setting, it manages to feels like Oz is slogging back and forth between the same few places in a repetitive loop. The near-absence of adults is forced through a series of coincidences and comes across as a contrivance rather than a natural narrative occurrence.
An indistinguishable middle-school narrator in an unremarkable mystery. (Mystery. 10-14)
BA-BA-BA. I swatted at the alarm clock. BA-BA-BA. Where was the snooze button? I fumbled for the light and knocked over a glass of water. By the time I got the light on, and alarm off, water was everywhere. I picked up Dave’s copy of Making of a Cook and dried it off on my pillowcase.
Great. Six o’clock a.m. and the day was off to a bad start.
It wasn’t going to get any better, either. I slid out of bed and fished a pair of jeans and a crumpled T-shirt from underneath a chair and yanked them on. Thanks to Dave—he’s my older brother—I got to spend Saturday morning cleaning greasy exhaust hoods and scrubbing down counters. Oh yeah, and stock-take … a riveting job where I counted how much we had of every ingredient in the kitchen. Fascinating, not.
He didn’t even care that school had just started and I had homework to do. He gave me a big lecture last night. “Oz, this is the only way you’ll ever learn the business. All the great chefs start this way.” And then—this is the killer—“Trust me, I’m doing you a favor.” Thanks, Dave.
I splashed cold water on my face and brushed my teeth. I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror and squinted at my reflection. Maybe we weren’t really brothers. He had blond hair and blue eyes. Me? Brown hair, brown eyes, and freckles. I could hope.
I walked down the hall past his bedroom. Totally silent. He got to sleep in while I worked. Okay, so we were short staffed. And he was the head chef. And he was twelve years older than me. I got all that. But still, he treated me like I was his personal slave.
It was worse because Mom wasn’t here. She’d been in France for almost a week. She flew out as soon as we got the call that Gran had had a stroke. Mom was barely out of the driveway before Dave put on his serious face and said, “Oz, we all have to pitch in.” I think it was just another excuse to hassle me.
I put on my backpack and grabbed my bike from the front porch. I was almost out the driveway before I realized something was weird. Dave’s car wasn’t there. I hadn’t heard him come in last night, but I was so exhausted that wasn’t surprising. A sick thought raced through my mind. What if Dave was already at work? What if he’d gone in early so he could keep an eye on me? Great. That was all I needed.
I zoomed down Garcia, took a right onto Acequia Madre and a left at Delgado. PiÑon smoke wafted out of a chimney, a smell of pine and cumin that reminded me of Christmas. I sucked in a deep breath. Except for a couple of dogs howling, it was just me.
At Canyon Road I took a right. The galleries were closed, waiting for the next wave of art-crazed tourists. We got our fair share of tourists at Chez Isabelle—most of the local businesses depended on them—but also lots of locals.
When I hit the parking lot I slowed down. Suddenly it was pitch black. Weird. I could barely see the restaurant across the lot. It wasn’t a big deal. I spent more time at Chez Isabelle than I did at home and knew my way around blindfolded, but still …
I coasted across the lot and leaned my bike against the wall. I felt my way to the door. Glass crunched underneath my shoes. That was it. The light over the back door was out. Probably Razor and JoJo playing hoops again. “Excellent,” I muttered. “One more thing to clean up.”
I shifted my backpack onto one shoulder and dug in the zipper pocket for my key. I fumbled around until I found the lock. The key slipped in but the lock didn’t turn. It wasn’t locked. Impossible. Dave closed last night, didn’t he? He never forgot anything, especially something like locking up. I got this creepy feeling. I knew he’d been in a foul mood last night, distracted, like something was really bugging him, but forget to lock up?
I stood in the doorway, trying to figure out what to do. “Hello?” I called out. “Dave, you there?”
No one answered. I told myself there was nothing to worry about. I tried to ignore the butterflies in my stomach. I stepped through the doorway. Total darkness. It took a second for my eyes to adjust. I smelled cooking grease and bleach and something else … something different … what was it? It was like rust or …
I ran my hand along the wall to my right, found the light switch, and gave it a flick. As soon as the fluorescent lights sputtered on I felt better.
But then I saw it. Blood. The prep table—the stainless-steel one we used for pastry—was covered in blood. My stomach heaved. Don’t puke. It was blood, wasn’t it? I swallowed hard. There was more on the floor in front of the table. I glanced up. Droplets peppered the ceiling. I swallowed again.
I grabbed my cell and started to punch in the speed dial for Dave. I stopped. Dave would ask me a load of questions. I didn’t have any answers. Figure out what’s going on, then call Dave. I slipped the phone back in my pocket.
I glanced around at the rest of the room. Nothing moved, nothing missing as far as I could tell. Everything else looked normal. I took a step toward the table. A trail of blood led from the table in the center of the room to the walk-in fridge on the right-hand wall. Then it stopped. I edged over toward the fridge, trying not to step in the blood. It was no good. It squelched underneath my sneakers. I looked down. I’d left a bloody footprint on the floor.
I rested my hand on the cold stainless-steel door, trying to get my heart to stop racing. Maybe this was a practical joke. Something Razor thought up. He was our sous-chef, the second-in-command to Dave. Maybe I’d open up the door and he’d be in there with a couple of the other guys in hysterics.
I gripped the stainless-steel handle of the fridge. I took a deep breath and pulled. A blast of cold air hit me. That’s when I saw him. It wasn’t Razor or any of the guys from work. It was a man slumped against the back wall of the walk-in. There was a small trickle of blood on his forehead. But his shirt … his shirt was covered in blood. He didn’t move. Dead. But his eyes … they were wide open and staring straight at me.
© 2011 Julia Platt Leonard
After an attention grabbing beginning, I thought it drug a bit. But the ending was a page turner. I really liked Rusty and wished she had been in the book even more. I hope there will be another book with these characters.
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Posted November 19, 2012
This was a good mystery book. At the beginning, it was suspensful. The ending was shocking to me. This us a must-read! This book is good to use for school projects. Buy it!
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Posted January 18, 2012
Posted March 4, 2013
Posted August 15, 2012
THIS WAS THE BEST BOOK IVE EVER IN MY 12 YEARS OF AGE HAVE EER READ AND I READ EVERYDAY BESBOOK EVER CANT WAIT FOR MORE
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Posted February 25, 2012
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