Saturday, July 6, 2013

Book Review: Rush for the Gold - Mystery at the Olympics by John Feinstein

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Great characters and writing
Cons: Mystery started late and was short changed.
The Bottom Line
A sports story first
Which means mystery suffers
In well done setting

Scandal in Olympic Swimming

Ready to catch Olympic fever?  That's what John Feinstein is hoping for with Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics.  This is the latest in his sports mysteries for kids, and I left it slightly disappointed.

The series revolves around teen reporters Susan Carol Anderson and Stevie Thomas.  At this point in the series, they are dating, although their long distance relationship is a bit of a struggle.  Over the course of the series, they've managed to cover some of the biggest sporting events and uncover some big mysteries at them.  This time, they're setting their sights on the Olympics, but with a twist.

Susan Carol's swimming has gone from good to great, and she's positioned to make the US Olympic team, possibly even medaling.  Her new sponsors are betting on it, in fact.

Susan Carol's boyfriend Stevie Thomas is excited about her upcoming swim meets and the possibility of covering her in London.  But when they arrive, they start hearing and seeing things that don't add up.  Can Stevie uncover what is happening?  Will Susan Carol be able to ignore it in order to swim the best she can?

I had no trouble jumping in here as far as the characters go.  I felt I got to know them quickly, and I liked them, especially Susan Carol and Stevie.  Everyone felt real to me, which made it easy to root for our heroes.

The problem comes in the plot department.  If this had been a sports story, it would have been fine because that aspect is very well done.  When Susan Carol was in the pool, I was holding my breath, too.  Plus all the drama in the first half revolves around Susan Carol and her new status as a professional swimmer.

You'll note I said drama and not mystery.  That's because the real mystery doesn't get started until we reachLondon, which is almost exactly the half way point of the novel.  But Susan Carol still has to swim.  While it is certainly part of the story, it also means the mystery really gets short changed.  It flows out of what has happened before, but it feels very rush and underdeveloped.

One thing I did enjoy was the real people who are liberally sprinkled throughout the novel.  We get appearances from swimmers like Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin as well as real reporter Bob Costas.  Even this non-sports guy liked this part, and all the real life people came off as so nice.  It always made me smile.

However, there is a word of warning here.  The book spoils some of the events of earlier books in the series, especially the endings.  It is necessary considering some of what is happening here, but if you are interested in the series, start with earlier books.

I've got to confess that when I finished the book, I was actually disappointed I couldn't turn on the Olympics right then.  I felt like I was inLondonand all primed for the one time I pay attention to sports.  The book also makes some very sad observations about how athletes are picked for endorsements.  All that is wrapped in a writing style that was very easy to read.

So there is much to recommend the book.  I think kids who like sports will eat it up.  But those looking for a stronger mystery will be disappointed with Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics.

NOTE: I received this book as part of the Amazon Vine program.  A shorter version of this review will also be published there.

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