cover image Blue Avenger Cracks the Code

Blue Avenger Cracks the Code

Norma Howe. Henry Holt & Company, $17 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6372-1

Less philosophical than The Adventures of Blue Avenger, this sequel is just as eccentric and intellectually engaging and very nearly as much fun. In her breezy, iconoclastic style, Howe begins with a hyperbolic note that brings newcomers up to speed even as it throws down the gauntlet: ""Now that we've smoked out the bubble heads and goof-offs who think the highest praise they can give a book is I finished it in one day!--now that we understand each other, we can get on with the adventures at hand."" Persuaded by his English teacher that the author of the plays attributed to Shakespeare is instead Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford, Blue quickly sets to work decoding Elizabethan anagrams and ciphers, and starts compiling a Shakespeare Mystery Notebook. A trip with his friends to Venice gives him an unparalleled opportunity to test his detective skills--he overhears a shady antiquarian and a furtive Englishman (possibly someone ""dependent on the continued prosperity of a certain multi-billion-dollar tourist industry"") discussing a manuscript in which de Vere (who visited Venice in 1575) mentions Verona's Romeo and Giulietta. Howe makes a virtue out of implausibility by demanding readers' ironic laughter: ""That [scenario] is beyond comic books! That is pure Hollywood!"" While the narrative is uneven in its techniques (e.g., Howe's cross-cutting slows down once Blue is in Venice), the scale is a grand one--here is a comic novel unafraid to challenge its audience. Ages 12-up. (Sept.)