Gr 5-8-- In the spring of 1893, young Sam, his sister Vera, and their hard-drinking father are a lackluster vaudeville act in a dime museum on the Bowery. When a murderous thug nicknamed ``Brighteyes'' forces Pa to help retrieve stolen diamonds, life goes awry for the threesome and Vera ends up with the glittering trove. She convinces Pa that they can set up their own theater with the goods, and the family exits Manhattan to escape Brighteyes. An adventurous chase ensues over rural New York State. There are captures, escapes, and plot twists galore. Bad guys turn into good guys and vice versa. In less skilled hands, this could have turned into comic-book farce, but McNamara's characterizations and strong voice make the improbable seem quite reasonable and certainly entertaining. Although there is no touch of the supernatural, this book is somewhat reminiscent of Richard Peck's The Ghost Belonged to Me (Viking, 1975), with its viewpoint expressed through an intelligent, conservative, yet typical boy led unwillingly into danger by an assertive girl. Like Peck, McNamara splashes in historical detail and humor in an unobtrusive way, making it easy for reluctant readers to enter the time period. Light adventure at its best!-- Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY
A first-person adventure story set in upstate New York in the 1890s stars an Irish-American theatrical family that comprises of an inept father, an irrepressible sister, and a sensible brother. Soon after a crazed character called Brighteyes burgles and then burns down a Gramercy Park mansion, Sam, Vera, Pa, and a cache of stolen diamonds head to the countryside for a thespian-and-thug chase filled with slapstick humor, colorful characters, and several near-disasters. While theater historian McNamara displays the dramatic flair that characterized the cheap novel and traveling medicine show of the nineteenth century, he dispenses with the trademark edifying moral in favor of the laughs. It's hard to imagine any but the most reluctant reader not drawn in by the nonstop action and suspense that begins with Sam's matter-of-fact comment about almost being "killed half a dozen times."