Finally, having caught up on my last two reviews for 2011's reading, I can move onto 2012 properly... And my first book of the year was a cracker of a read! Wolfy and clever and exciting - and very much inclined to make me go buy the first of Kathy Reichs' adult crime novels, to see if Dr. Temperance Brennan is as kick-ass a character as her niece!
I've never read Kathy Reichs before, but I was intrigued by the premise of this new series for young adults. It is about four science-geek teenagers living on Morris Island, a tiny community in the middle of nowhere. Their parents work for the local university's research institute on nearby Loggerhead Island. The teens are brilliantly drawn characters - funny science buff Hiram, mousy Shelton, tall, dark and silent Ben, and the lone girl, Tory Brennan. The solid relationships and playful humour between these four is a joy to read, and provides a firm base for the rest of the story.
As you would expect from Kathy Reichs, forensics are at the forefront of the plot (Reichs readers will recognise Tory's surname - forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is her aunt). When the teens find an old military dog tag in the woods on Loggerhead Island, their curiosity is piqued and they are determined to return it to its rightful owner. When they break into the Institute to use the scientific equipment to clean the tag, they also end up rescuing a wolfdog puppy from an illegal experimental lab (as you do), and in doing so contract a new strain of parvovirus that wires canine DNA into their own. Before they know it, they are having to learn about their new capabilities, find out who's behind the illegal experiment, work out the connection between the dog tag and a long-cold missing person case, AND evade the dangerous armed men now hot on their heels.
It's not as complicated as it sounds, honest. It's certainly a complex and involved novel, as you would expect from a mistress of crime thriller writing, but as all the threads come together everything makes perfect sense... Reichs kept me guessing to the last - though I had a few suspicions, of course - and I was thoroughly absorbed in the teenagers' search for the truth even as they struggled with their new wolfy traits. The sharpness and humour of the dialogue and Tory's narrative voice kept everything grounded, but there were still some genuinely shocking moments too. An intelligent and gripping start to the series - I'm reading the second novel, Seizure, right now and it's looking to be just as good, if not better!
Note: Many thanks to Random House Children's Books, who sent me this novel for an honest review.