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Originally published at Schrodinger's Bookshelf. Please leave any comments there.

High school freshman Annie Fleet has several great passions: scuba diving, the mysteries of the ocean, and a crush on her schoolmate, Josh Rebstock. She finally gets a chance to get his attention when the two of them head to Mexico as part of a school field trip, a combination humanitarian and treasure hunting expedition.  With her diving expertise, she’s perfect for teaching Josh how not to drown in new and embarrassing ways.

Only the “Good Deeds and Golden Doubloons” trip isn’t what it appears. The teacher running it, Mr. Alvarez, reveals that he’s still a treasure hunter on the side, and he has a line on a fabled treasure, found and lost centuries ago by Hernan Cortes. The Golden Jaguar, conservatively estimated at $100,000,000. With his original crew unavailable, Alvarez cons Annie and her companions into helping him dive for the first clue in uncovering the resting place of the Golden Jaguar.

When Annie’s success is followed immediately by someone trying to kill her, she realizes that she’s on the right path.  But unable to trust Alvarez or anyone besides Josh, what she’s to do? Easy: round up her friends, call in some favors, and use every bit of her own resourcefulness and expertise to find the Golden Jaguar before the bad guys do. In a jetsetting adventure that takes her from Mexico, to Hawaii, to California and more, she embarks on a thrilling series of diving escapades.  And along the way, she even finds a little time to romance Josh…

I absolutely loved In Too Deep. Annie is resourceful, clever, determined, geeky, and adorable. Her combination of book smarts and survival instincts makes her a plucky, admirable heroine, the sort who could totally front an ongoing series. Coert Voorhees likewise surrounds her with a cast of engaging, entertaining friends, avoiding all of the usual annoying stereotypes one might expect from a teen drama.  By setting Annie and her peers at a school for the Hollywood elite—the sons and daughters of the rich and famous—it opens up doors to all sorts of opportunities.  You end up with Mimi Soto, former child actress who remains relatively grounded despite her fame and fortune, and Gracia Berg, daughter of a producer, who, rather refreshingly, combines looks and a hidden talent for computer games and programming.  (Say what you want, but it’s nice to see a character who’s not afraid to be pretty –and- let her geek flag fly, or a character who’s rich and confident and not a total jerk.)  Josh, son of an award-winning actress, proves to be complex and interesting in his own right.

The plot itself has just the right mixture of mystery, action, and exotic settings, lending it a cinematic feel which would be perfect should Hollywood ever decide to reboot the National Treasure franchise to star teenagers instead of Nicholas Cage. It’s fast-paced, yet episodic as Annie and friends follow the clues from one location to the next, giving them the chance to delve into more history and up the tension.  The way they utilize all their resources turns out to be pretty darn clever.

I may not know much about scuba diving, but Voorhees certainly makes it feel authentic, bringing the details and atmosphere with each trip beneath the water’s surface.

I don’t know if Voorhees has any sequels in mind, but I’d love to see more of Annie Fleet and her intrepid band of treasure hunters.  The seeds for future installments were laid down in this story, so one can only hope.  But even if this is a standalone, it’s a damned fine one, and one well worth checking out.

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Originally published at Schrodinger's Bookshelf. Please leave any comments there.

Ashley Arthur is calm, cool, and collected. She can pick locks, steal cars, rewire alarms, and scale fences like a champion. She’s one of the best thieves in the world…and she’s only fifteen. With her partner Benjamin running tech support and remote backup, Ash is ready to tackle any challenge.  But now the pair have set their sights on one of the richest targets alive. They have solid information that Hammond Buckland, billionaire CEO of HBS, has a whopping $200,000,000 hidden somewhere in his corporate headquarters.

And they’re going to steal it.

However, the job goes horribly awry when Michael Peachey, reportedly the third best hitman in the business, shows up to terminate Buckland on secret orders from the government. Now the teenage thief is trapped in the same building as a ruthless assassin. Ash isn’t leaving without the money. Peachey’s not leaving any witnesses alive.

Things rapidly snowball out of control. Buckland’s had time to prepare for his potential assassination, and soon he has Peachey jumping through hoops of his own, one step ahead of the killer. But the three way struggle attracts the attention of both the police and the Terrorism Risk Assessment agency, and soon Ash is running from killers and the law.  Will she get her payday, or is this job doomed to failure?

Money Run is an absurdly entertaining, over-the-top, adventure that may be just a little too hard to swallow if taken seriously. Heath is adept at putting his characters into adrenaline-charged, life-and-death situations, constantly upping the stakes and the action appeal. By the time Ash has “borrowed” a Bugatti Veyron, one of the world’s most exclusive and expensive cars, and driven it off the top of the building only to crash it into the apartment building next door, you know this is no run-of-the-mill romp.  And believe me, that’s not even the most outrageous stunt to grace these pages.

Ash is a great protagonist, a skilled thief who does it for the kicks rather than the loot, adept at thinking on the fly and making her lunatic plans somehow work. I’d love to see a situation where she ran into Ally Carter’s tband of teenage grifters and thieves from Heist Society.

However, I’m not sure what to think about some of the other characters. Hammond Buckland would make a perfect supervillain: his elaborate plans, Wile E. Coyote deathtraps, penchant for monologuing, and ability to remain one step ahead of everyone place him somewhere between Lex Luthor and Ernst Blofeld on the level of accomplishment, and yet he remains vaguely sympathetic.  Peachey, on the other hand, is introduced as a competent, skilled, experienced assassin with the quirky habit of internally narrating his story like he’s going to sell it to the movies. But for someone so good as his job, he’s…not very good. Ash runs rings around him, and Buckland treats him like Bugs treats Yosemite Sam or Elmer Fudd.  It’s almost sad, watching this guy so completely off his game.

An interesting quirk of the book is that it seems to go out of its way to be set in a specific location. It was originally released in 2008 in Heath’s native Australia, but honestly, this book could take place in Australia, America, or possibly Canada. Currency is given in dollars, but the TRA is, as far as I can tell, entirely fictitious. There’s references to “this state” and “this country” without trying very hard to ground the story in a real location.

Now, Heath has already gone on record addressing the similarities between this book and the 2011 movie, Tower Heist. (Spoilers of a sort to be found at that link). All I can say is that while there are definitely parallels, I’m pretty sure it’s mostly just coincidental. Your mileage may vary. 

In the end, I’d definitely say I enjoyed this story. Sure, it’s almost ludicrously over-the-top at points, with the initial heist turned into something approaching slapstick levels of comedy, coincidence, bad timing and Rule of Cool, but it’s no harder to accept than, say, Catch That Kid! If you want a fast-paced romp that reads like a mashup of Heist Society and Die Hard, a teen adventure with a cinematic feel, this is a worthy offering.

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Michael M Jones

May 2015

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