Second acts are tough. The stage has been set. The characters have interacted. Enough has happened to engage the audience. But we’re still a fair distance from the conclusion. That’s the challenge that favorite tween author Gordon Korman faces in Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, book #2 in a 3-book series. Korman fulfills this obligation with a 300-page chase scene that is action-packed, but ultimately less-satisfying than the first volume of the series.
In Masterminds (#1) – reviewed here – five Serenity, middle schoolers discover the secret behind their captivity in small-town paradise: they’re clones. Better still (or worse,) they’re cloned from the DNA of some of the worst criminals in recent memory. Serenity is really a big social science experiments. Put genetic “criminals” in a perfect setting – where there’s no hint of violence, poverty, or strife – and see how they turn-out. Masterminds tells the story of five clones as they learn the truth about Serenity and pull-off a daring escape.
In Masterminds: Criminal Destiny (#2) four escaped clones are on a mission to prove their story and bring their former caretakers to justice, evading the police and the ever-present “Purples” – the Serenity security force tasked with bringing them back under control. The group “borrows” a few cars along the way, and drives from New Mexico to Wyoming, back to New Mexico, and finally Texas searching for witnesses who can verify the sinister secrets of Serenity.
In an implausible turn of events, the tweens discover a list of career criminals who donated their DNA for the project. Using the Internet as a source of photographs, the kids/clones quickly discover whose DNA they have. This knowledge causes each group member to examine their motives and thought processes as they steal cars, escape the police, and lie to just about everybody in order to maintain their desperate search.
And that’s about all that happens. The first Masterminds book kept the reader hooked with several astonishing revelations and a real sense of urgency. Unfortunately, Criminal Destiny can’t keep the pace. We’re introduced to a couple of characters that may be important in the third and final Masterminds book (due February, 2017) but their appearances are brief and unremarkable.
As I read each chapter, I kept waiting for the payoff that never came. I’m looking for the next plot twist, the next shake-up, the next I-didn’t-see-that-coming moment that makes Korman’s books such a delight to read. Sure, it’s tough to have a major reveal in a “second” book. But didn’t “Luke, I am your father!” come in the second Star Wars movie?
Will your middle schoolers mind the parts that I find lacking? No. They’ll love the action, the humor, and the characterization. Like the first Masterminds book, Criminal Destiny is a must-buy, and the final volume will be, too. In a few months you’ll be able to complete a popular series you can recommend to your tween readers for years to come.
I’m counting on #3 to blow me away. Don’t let me down, Gordo!