Thursday 13 May 2021

200 Minutes of Mystery

200 Minutes of Mystery by Jack Heath (Scholastic) PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9781760660840

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

Jack Heath is one of Australia’s best-known authors for a reason. This latest book follows on from his four-part Minutes of Danger series with 10 short mysteries counting down 20 minutes of tightly woven action.  All the protagonists are young, smart, and in the wrong place at the wrong time, leaving the reader on edge wondering how they’ll extricate themselves from their precarious positions. 

The concept will be familiar to those of us old experienced enough to remember the TV drama 24, and accordingly should come with a content warning for the sensitive at heart. Although suitable for the mid to upper-primary target market, the frighteningly realistic description of waking up buried alive in a coffin, six feet underground, is probably enough to cause nightmares for the most blasé reader. There’s also the girl who comes to consciousness paralysed and confused in a hospital bed, and the boy who narrowly escapes being swallowed by an inferno.

There’s a wonderful diversity in gender, ethnicity and geographical setting across the stories, so there’s a feeling of travelling the world (or at least its underbelly) and even, in a couple of cases, time. While ostensibly separate stories, there are ‘Easter eggs’ for the observant to discover subtle links connecting the tales. Description is finely observed, starting with the first line’s spittle in a beard and the ‘spongy’ air experienced by a skydiver later in the same opening story.

The snappy format catapults readers directly into the shoes of the protagonists and gives the satisfaction of resolution before we realise we’re holding our breath.

Ideal for reluctant readers, this book is a treat for anyone aged 10 and up who enjoys an intense dose of suspense.  Fans of previous Minutes of Danger instalments will probably have flown through the pages already, but the uninitiated can easily pick this book up without having read any others.

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