Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Children’s Books: Mole Hunt by Paul Collins

In Mole Hunt (Ford Street) the critter being referred to, Maximus Black by name, isn’t the blind, digging creature but the spy kind. Only in his teens, Maximus Black is a brilliant cadet in RIM, a galactic spy agency. That is, until he commits a murder or two and plays with some advanced technology as part of his plan to dominate the galaxy. But Maximus is not without opposition. Anneke Longshadow, another star recruit, whose guardian he’s wiped out, knows he has to be stopped before he finds some frightening information left over from the old Empire, information that will allow him access to battleships of a kind no one is able to do any more.

Mind you, the technology in the universe of this YA space opera is pretty advanced in its own right. Even death doesn’t have to be permanent if you know how to make the right arrangements.

There’s some fascinating world-building here. This universe has an elaborate system of law and order: or should that be disorder? While the heroes/anti-heroes are running around breaking into bases, exploding things, nearly killing each other, whatever world they’re on gets on with its own daily life, generally a pretty grubby one. Big corporations run things and send out assassins against each other. Even the CEO of one of them isn’t safe from the others. If the board don’t like what you’re doing, you can expect a lot worse than a large dismissal payout. If you’re an ordinary person on the street, you’re probably safe enough: unless Maximus Black gets to you.

The action, which alternates between the two main characters, is non-stop. Nobody seems to eat or sleep, except Anneke, and every time she stops for a rest, something disastrous happens. I can see this as a graphic novel, complete with explosions and crashes every other page. It reminds me, in some ways, of those Mad Magazine cartoons, “Spy vs Spy.”

Oddly enough, dreadful as Maximus is -- and at this stage, at least, he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever -- you still want to see him escape whatever fix he has gotten himself into. Anneke does manage to outwit him a number of times, but she isn’t actively trying to kill him.

For kids who like action, action, action. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and, most recently, the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog, The Great Raven, can be found at

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