Author: Jan Markley
Publisher: Gumboot Books
Author's Website: www.janmarkley.com
Book Source: review copy from author
Cyd and Jane are twin sisters who love blogging, Nancy Drew books, and in Jane's case, animals. One hot summer day, Cyd accidentally kills Jane's pet, Frogzilla. Neither girl suspects this tragic death will draw them into a mystery of gigantic proportions.
Gigantic frogs, that is.
That's right. Someone's busy engineering giant frogs. Cyd and Jane soon figure out who's to blame, but motive is a trickier question. And they won't be able to foil this cruelty to amphibians without proof, which will prove to be the trickiest part of all. Can the twins prevail? With a little help from cyberspace, and a lot of Nancy Drew, they just might.
Dead Frog on the Porch deals with tough topics like scientific ethics, animal experimentation, and environmental conservation, but the plot is madcap and comedic. The villains have a larger-than-life-melodrama kind of feel to them, which keeps them from becoming too frightening for younger readers. Cyd, the point of view character, has a smart-alecky voice I quite enjoyed. A couple times I found her narrative asides a tad long, delaying the action, but her voice is sympathetic and feels very genuine. And I personally loved the part where she complains that all this science is interfering with her (mystery) writing time.
... we interrupt this review for a message from Dr. Carmichael, PhD in genetics ...
I'm always wary of plots containing science, particularly genetics, because errors make me cranky and frenzied ranting invariably ensues. I'll keep it brief, and attempt to avoid spoilers.
I'm always a little defensive when scientists are depicted as the bad guys, but I can't argue the point too strongly. Just ask the editors of Nature about rescinding papers due to questionable ethics and fraudulent data. However, my eyebrows went up when Cyd comments that she and Jane are in charge of recycling, because their parents don't think it's important. On the one hand, go message to kids that they don't need their parents to help them save the earth. The problem is, the twin's parents are scientists (of the non-evil variety). In my experience, consisting of many years surrounded by colleagues who wear Birkenstocks and cargo shorts in November, scientists are the people most likely to be environmental activists - after all, we've seen the data.
My biggest scientific quibble with the book, however, occurs at the worst possible point - the climax. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that the proof the twins use to solve the case and catch the villains, well... it just wouldn't work. Then again, the only science fiction I've ever read that didn't contain errors was Greg Bear's Darwin's Radio (sorry, Jurassic Park), and I freely admit I'm much more disturbed by this kind of thing (or possibly just more disturbed) than the average reader.
... and now back to our regularly scheduled programming ...
As I was saying before my alter-ego interrupted, Dead Frog on the Porch is the first in a new middle grade series - the Megabyte Mysteries - and overall is a light, funny read. As well as appealing to kids, the book contains discussion questions teachers could use in language arts, social studies, or science classes.
As a bookseller, I often get requests for mystery, so it's good to see a new author taking on the challenge. I'd especially recommend Dead Frog on the Porch to fans of Marty Chan. And although I had to miss the first Mystery-Comedy Smackdown, I'd love to see the rematch.
Dead Frog on the Porch is available through www.amazon.ca, as well as select independent and chain bookstores. For a full listing, see Jan Markley's website.