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Door of No Return

Door of No Return

by Sarah Mussi

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Zac lives with his grandfather, Pops. When Pops is killed by muggers, Zac is devastated. Dumped with foster parents, then in an orphanage, Zac stumbles from trouble to trouble, but the one thing he hangs on to is Pops' obsession with their family history and his ambition to go to Ghana in search of a ransom paid by a descendant 200 years earlier, to keep his son


Zac lives with his grandfather, Pops. When Pops is killed by muggers, Zac is devastated. Dumped with foster parents, then in an orphanage, Zac stumbles from trouble to trouble, but the one thing he hangs on to is Pops' obsession with their family history and his ambition to go to Ghana in search of a ransom paid by a descendant 200 years earlier, to keep his son from slavery - a ransom stolen by British government agents at the time, which then disappeared. At least, Zac thinks, he can keep faith with Pops by continuing his quest. So Zac wangles his own way to Ghana.

Alone and far from home, he discovers that Pops' death and everything since is part of a wider plan by some shadowy others, also connected to the lost ransom. In a web of intrigue, deception, betrayal, skulduggery and murder that reaches out of the past to entrap everyone in the present, Zac's quest culminates in a perilous voyage to the Door of No Return in the walls of the ancient slave fort - through which the slaves were once herded to the boats that would take them across the ocean, on a journey many of them would never survive.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
More than action…fuels this compelling debut novel. Zac is a wry, engaging protagonist.
—The Washington Post
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
The British author has lived in Ghana and is married to a Ghanaian, and this thriller takes place in England and Ghana. A terrific cover helps sell the book to readers. Zac Baxter lives in England and has been raised by his grandfather, who is murdered at the beginning of this story—their apartment is ransacked. Zac has always heard his grandfather speak of gold dust and maps and a prince sold into slavery many years before in Ghana, and dismissed it as just an old man's obsession, but the murder puts the family story in a new perspective because there are people who obviously will kill for this information. Zac goes into the foster care system, taken in by a white couple who become devoted to him; but within months, Zac is framed for a crime he doesn't commit, and eventually sent to Ghana as part of a rehabilitation plan for delinquents. By now, he is completely paranoid, chased by unknown bad guys. He realizes he is being followed because someone believes he has the knowledge of where the gold dust is hidden. This story is very suspenseful, if somewhat convoluted, and the plot requires a certain suspension of reason—but the essence of the story, that of a family searching for facts about how their ancestors were sold into slavery and betrayed by the British government—that story basically feels truthful. The door of no return is the door slaves exited on their way to the slave ships taking them far from Africa. Reading this exciting mystery will help young people understand something about slavery and what transpired in West Africa in the slave trade. Zac is smart and well meaning, and a fine hero to carry this story. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
School Library Journal

Gr 8 Up

Lost gold treasure, African royal ancestors, and betrayal are the foundation of family legends that Zac Baxter has been told repeatedly by his beloved grandfather. Zac loves the man but is skeptical about his stories until Sam Baxter's brutal murder convinces him otherwise. He promises himself to finish what his grandfather started no matter what the outcome. Zac is depicted as a regular British teen of African descent. He is likable, resourceful, and often terrified as his life is threatened at every turn. The British government clearly wants him out of the way. The characters he meets on his quest, both friends and villains, are unique and fully developed. This exciting narrative takes place in England and Africa; in jungles, dark caves, and on the sea. The Gold Coast slave trade comes alive with Zac's every historical discovery, while the parallel story told of the harrowing experiences of his ancestors puts a personal touch on the inhumanity of slavery. Zac begins his journey wanting vindication for his grandfather and personal gain for himself. However, he ends it with respect and pride in his heritage, confidence in his abilities, and finally with a sense that his grandfather would be proud and at peace with his accomplishments. Overall, this is a complex, masterful story for confident readers.-Margaret Auguste, Franklin Middle School, Somerset, NJ

Kirkus Reviews
According to his grandfather's stories, 16-year-old Zac Baxter is the last descendant of King Baktu of the Gold Coast, now Ghana. The king's son was stolen away by slavers in 1701, and the king struck a deal with the British ambassador: a fortune in gold and land in return for immunity for the Baktu people from capture, deportation and slavery. The deal was recorded in a bond, but the British reneged and became leaders in the slave trade; the bond, still legal and binding, now has the potential to embarrass the British government. And Mr. Baxter claims to know where it is. Zac finds himself a pawn in a game bigger than he and Pops ever expected as he travels to Ghana in search of both gold and the bond. Written by Zac in preparation for trial, the story is an intelligent and well-plotted blend of Treasure Island, King Solomon's Mines and Roots, deftly incorporating themes of family, friends, history and betrayal. Suspense and important history in one fine novel. (author's note) (Fiction. 12 & up)
Children's Literature - Annie Laura Smith
The symbolic title of the novel is from the portal of slave castles and fortresses of Africa through which the slaves left to board ships. The dedication in the book notes the year 2008 marks the bicentenary of the banning of the importation of slaves to America. Traditional Adinkra wisdom from Ghana states, "may we learn from the past." After Zac Baxter's grandfather is murdered by those who think he has a vast fortune in Africa, Zac sets out for Ghana on a quest to track down his family's history. Is sixteen-year-old Zac Baxter is the last descendant of King Baktu of the Gold Coast, now Ghana? Did his ancestors lose their inherited fortune when they were sold into slavery? The author is an Englishwoman who lived in Ghana and wrote the story from first-hand knowledge of the country. The well-crafted, historical story was inspired by a real event that occurred in 1701, but the characters are fictional. The historical facts, action and suspense throughout provide a compelling read. It would be an excellent supplement for the history curriculum. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith

Product Details

Hachette Children's
Publication date:
Sold by:
Hachette Digital, Inc.
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File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
13 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Lost Prince

I knew something was wrong the minute I shut the door of number 13, Arrowsmith House, Tuffley. I'd lived there as long as I could remember. What I didn't know was I'd just closed the door on that part of my life.

We were late. Pops had insisted on wearing his kente cloth. He didn't really know how to tie it, and he had to get his coat over the top of the whole thing, so we'd been fussing in the front hall for ten minutes. It was cold outside, bitterly cold, and with only two days to go, I was hoping for a white Christmas.

I think it was because I was inspecting the patch of grass at the front, to see if it was snow or frost, that I noticed the footsteps. Someone had been standing there for a while. The frozen grass was broken and crushed; there were patterns of pale steps pacing along the front of the flat, up and down.

For some reason I felt a flash of anger. Someone was taking liberties. I scanned the parking lot and thought I saw a shape, a woman — sort of ageless with a blank gray face.

"We'll dazzle them tonight, eh, Zac?" said Pops.

I didn't reassure him. That woman's gray look had unsettled me. Instead I took his arm and glanced the length of the housing estate. It looked safe. Fairy lights twinkled in windows — but people get angry at Christmas. Angry for all the things they want and can't have. So I wasn't taking any chances.

"When I get to the part about the Lost Prince, you show them your back."

My back is stunningly fit like the rest of me, but that was not why Pops wanted to show it off. A cat ran out from under a car and I jumped.

Pops chuckled; I was not in a mood to humor him. "It's cold," I said. "I don't really want to." To tell you the truth, I didn't want to go at all.

The Cormantin Club was Pops's baby. He was the founding member, Big Chief, the soul of the whole thing. That's Pops for you. Really the Cormantin Club was just a bunch of old black folks harking back to the days of slavery and drinking. After a few glasses they tried to outdo each other with wild tales. Pops's were always the wildest.

"They can't disprove me today, 'cause I got the diaries." He clutched the plastic bag up to his chest.

I remember that bag.

"I'm going to read them the dying words of King Baktu." Pops stopped and flung out his hand. Funny the things you remember. His outstretched arm, the plastic bag, and that feeling that something was wrong.

"Until my son, the Lost Prince — get it, that's you — comes back through the Door of No Return and claims his ransom, my soul will never rest in the land of my ancestors. That'll shut the old buggers up."

"But Pops, you wrote that bit in your diary."

"But that's what he said, son, so it doesn't matter which diary it's wrote in."

I'd got him a briefcase for Christmas. I figured he needed it!

That's when I noticed the two shadows up ahead. I shivered. A cloud passed over the moon like a hand across a face. The pavements darkened. Only the orange glare of the streetlights glittered on the frost.

"Then when they see the tribal marks..."

"Let's cross over."

It was always the same old story. Pops told it over and over, as if nobody had heard it before. That him and me were the last descendants of King Baktu, that King Baktu's chosen son and heir, our great-times-whatever-grandfather, had been stolen away as a child by slavers, that a king's ransom had been raised, but the treasure and the child were lost. It was true that we did have scar marks on our backs. But I know for certain that mine had been put there by Pops.

I suppose he was trying to feel important about something. Living on a Gloucester housing estate needed bigging up a bit.

The two shadows waited, half hidden behind some large waste bins. As we crossed over, they came forward. I can't remember much about either of them, other than a glimpse of royal blue tracksuit with white stripes. What I do remember was that woman's blank face flashing into my brain. I began to feel very edgy. Despite the cold I broke out in a slight sweat. I moved Pops to the inside so I was between him and the street. I tightened my features into a really mean screwface. I thought I was tough. What was I thinking? Why couldn't I have done more?

It happened very fast. Suddenly one of the shadows came running straight at me, yelling something about a stabbing, about needing help. The other one staggered into the street, screaming. I looked at one, then the other. My jaw dropped. I should never have hesitated. The next thing I knew, I was flat on my back with my head exploding. I heard Pops scream. I saw the other shadow sprint forward and grab the plastic bag. I heard the dull thwack of Pops's skull hitting the pavement. Then they were gone.

I can't remember reaching Pops; I thought stupidly that he must have arranged it all as a bit of drama. My head hurt so much I couldn't think straight. I think I was bleeding.

Pops looked so small lying there — crumpled, like a bundle of discarded rags. In his hand was part of a diary and shreds of bag. He wasn't moving.

Everything was going to be okay. I shook him a little and then remembered not to. I pulled out my mobile. Funny how I'd always wanted to dial 999.

"Pops, it's going to be okay."

"No," he said, "it's not."

He was speaking — so of course it was going to be okay.

"They've got the diaries, but they haven't got the map."

"Just hold on, the police are coming."

"Look in my pocket." His hand fluttered. I tore aside the kente. I looked in the breast pocket of his overcoat and pulled out one slim volume.

"That's the one they wanted." His voice was so old and tired. An ache started somewhere in the back of my throat. I looked helplessly around.

That was when I saw the woman with the blank gray face again; she was right behind us. Far too close.

"Don't let them get it," he said, and pressed the last diary toward me.

I took off my jacket and covered him. I sat down and cradled his head. I thought, if that woman comes any closer I'll smack her so hard she'll be the one who needs the ambulance. Somebody leaned out of an upstairs window and started shouting something.

"You've got to promise me, Zac, to go back and get the treasure."

My heart was thudding. My head hurt. The tightness in my throat was choking me. But I didn't want the woman to see the diary, so I let go of Pops's hand and stuffed it inside my hoody. She was weird. She just stood there, not offering to help, not doing anything! Just standing there pushing back the cuticles of her left hand with that blank gray face.

"They haven't got the map," said Pops again. "It never was in the diaries."

I didn't want her to hear what he was saying either.

"The map is the secret, see."

"Try to stay quiet."

"They haven't got it."

The woman moved closer. Pops's hand clutched at mine. "Zac, promise..."

I played along. "Who's got it then?"

"You have."

Copyright © 2007 by Sarah Mussi

Meet the Author

Sarah Mussi's first novel, The Door of No Return won the Glen Dimplex Children's Book of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award amongst others. Her second novel, The Last of the Warrior Kings was shortlisted for the Lewisham Book Award. Sarah is currently the Chair of CWISL (Children's Writers and Illustrators in South London) an active group of contemporary children's writers and illustrators who run creative writing workshops and festivals for children.
Sarah was born in Cheltenham, raised in the Cotswolds, attended Pates Grammar School for Girls, got a BA in Fine Art from Winchester School of Art and an MA from the Royal College of Art. She spent over fifteen years in West Africa as a teacher and now teaches English in Lewisham.

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