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Returning to the banks of the Mississippi in his second novel, Helgerson (Horns and Wrinkles) creates an enjoyable yarn, albeit one that feels a little rushed. Twelve-year-old Zebulon "Zeb" Crabtree is sent down the river to St. Louis to become an apprentice tanner, much to his dismay ("when I tried to point out that working with hides might rip my nose apart, Pa claimed that us Crabtrees were made of sterner stuff"). On the riverboat, a gambler named Chilly persuades him to be his apprentice instead, and Zeb is quickly inaugurated into the gambling underworld, hiding behind the wall of a poker room to signal other players' hands to Chilly and getting mixed up in Chilly's attempt to cheat a blind Native American chief. Eventually, Zeb has doubts about the life he's chosen and is forced to make some hard choices. Zeb has a strong voice and personality (though his cluelessness strains believability), and the supporting characters-including the chief's daughter and a slave named Ho-John-are well-defined. A thorough afterword and glossary nicely supplement the novel, but the quick resolution will leave readers wanting. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.