Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Thursday, October 03, 2013

CHUPACABRA by Roland Smith

Chupacabra (Marty and Grace #3)

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press (24 Sep 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545178177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545178174

Some years ago I reviewed a rather spiffing book called Tentacles . A friend of mine, a young lady called Elizabeth Clem who lives in Indiana, first introduced me to the work of Roland Smith when she sent Corinna and me his book Cryptid Hunters as a wedding present. I enjoyed it massively. The author's website describes it:

After their parents are lost in an accident, thirteen-year old twins Grace and Marty are whisked away to live with their Uncle Wolfe - an uncle that they didn't even know they had! The intimidating Uncle Wolfe is an anthropologist who has dedicated his life to finding cryptids, mysterious creatures believed to be long extinct.

As I wrote at the time, this is a woefully inadequate description and is 'a bit like describing Anna Karenina as being about a couple of Russian chicks and some horse racing.' But now I am happy to say that the third volume of the saga is out and I have to say I think that I enjoyed it even more than I did the first two, and that is saying something!

I particularly enjoy these stories even though Roland himself told me, "I actually thought about you when I was developing Wolfe and Marty... There is a bit of you in both of them". There is a famous quote by Groucho Marx that he would not join any club that had him in it, and I probably wouldn't either. But I am happy to say that Roland's three books, which have a teensy weensy bit of me in their DNA, are absolutely smashing.

NOW HOLD ON A MOMENT: I am hoping this review will make anyone who has not already read these books go out and buy them, so I am giving away as few plot details as I can. However, I have to reveal a few things, so although this is not a full-blown SPOILER ALERT, there are, I am afraid, a few.

In this book, Wolfe is conveniently off dealing with the Government and so the main protagonists of the story are the two children introduced in Vol 1, their friend Luther (introduced in Vol 2) and a third young person, conveniently old enough to drive but still young enough not to be part of the adult world.

At the end of Volume Two, Grace - who had only recently discovered that Wolfe was her father - had voluntarily gone off with the satisfyingly villainous villain Dr Noah Blackwood (who also happens to be her maternal grandfather), and spends much of the book trying to escape from Blackwood's high-tech headquarters. The three boys, meanwhile, spend the book trying to break in and rescue her.

It is Grace who develops as a character most in this book. She very satisfyingly sheds some of her girlishness  and becomes much more tough and resourceful. However - and this is the big bit of congratulations due to the author for his literary skill - Smith makes this transformation happen naturally, just as part of Grace's growing process. I have rarely seen the transformation of a character so deftly handled.

Adults can, I think, read more into the character descriptions of Blackwood and the other major villains than can (one hopes) the audience for whom this book is largely intended. He is truly evil, and what's more, the sort of evil who can justify every one of his misdeeds. Blackwood and several of his henchfolk make even adult readers wince, so I can only imagine the delightful frisson of horror that will be felt by juvenile minds reading these stories for the first time.

The bad news is that after this, all the indications are that there will only be one story left to complete the saga. Let's hope that Roland will be merciful on us, and continue the series longer. I now know what various neices and nephews of mine are going to have for Christmas from their favourite uncle.

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