This is the third book in the ‘Secret Series’, which is planned to comprise five books in all. Each book is based on one of the senses. The Name of This Book is Secret (2007) was based on smell, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late (2008) on sound, this one on taste; the remaining two are being based on sight and touch. This intriguing premise underlies a story about the struggle between three American children and a sinister international organisation, the Midnight Sun. The struggle relates to ‘The Secret’, which dates from Ancient Egypt and, in this book, is vested in one of the children, Cass (short for Cassandra). The book includes several references to the earlier books, and undoubtedly the series is best read in order.
All three children come from dysfunctional families of one sort or another, but their special qualities emerge in the adventures that follow. In this case, it concerns the rescue of Cass’s mother, who has been abducted by the Midnight Sun. But a major element of the book is the way in which the author, ‘Pseudonymous Bosch’, interpolates his own personality as a major character – one with a great liking for chocolate, which is also central to the plot. Keeping his own identity secret (although he is presumably the dimly lit, chocolate-eating figure who appears on YouTube), he takes an external, sardonic view of the text. Tristram Shandy-like, he changes the order of chapters, presents one chapter in partially successful invisible ink and prints a message to the reader from the Midnight Sun. He also employs ‘learned wit’, with its gentle mockery of precocious erudition. Schoolboy facts, often reminiscent of The Dangerous Book for Boys, turn up in witty footnotes dealing with subjects ranging from cacao seeds to the meaning of ‘oxymoron’; sometimes the footnote questions a ‘fact’ that appears in the text.
There is no doubting the educational interest of much of this material, while the context should engage the reader with its air of complicity in eating chocolate as much as in unravelling The Secret. In character terms, the children’s backgrounds are described in a graphic, even hyperbolic, way, yet still demonstrate real problems faced by young people. Possibly because of this superstructure, some of the plot elements are slightly under-developed, with characters and incidents that can fail to resonate fully with the reader. But overall this is an entertaining, enlightening and enhancing read which should appeal to a wide age-range.