Swindle is the first in a new (2008) series by Gordon Korman. It is essentially a comic crime novel for kids (recommended ages 9-12), being the story of seven kids who plan the heist of the century -- a baseball card worth a million dollars.
Gordon Korman has been a fixture of children's and young adult literature for decades, starting with his Bruno and Boots series and spanning the range from slap-dash comedy to sports stories and mysteries. Swindle, like many of his recent books, is moving back in the direction of his earlier works, focusing on kids having funny adventures. In my opinion his best books were were his comic adventures of the 1980s and early 90s, but these recent books approach those in many ways. Swindle, in particular returns to the familiar tropes of a group of kids each with a highly specialized skill that form an improbable alliance and sneak around under the noses of the adults, and the central pairing of a charismatic trouble maker and a more mild (and sensible) friend. Fans will find the characters very familiar.
The Story: Griffin Bing discovers an old baseball card in an abandoned house. It is a very old baseball card, and he takes it into a collectibles shop on the hope that it might be worth something -- perhaps worth enough to save his parents from having to sell their house. He is somewhat disappointed to find that it is worth only a couple hundred dollars. And he is quiet upset when the dealer turns around and announces that he is going to action it off at a New York auction house, and is hoping for as much as $1,000,000. Griffin can't prove that the card was his, and the dealer clearly isn't going to pay him what the card was actually worth. But rather than give up, he gets his friends together, and they hatch a plan to steal the card back. He happens to have a very talented group of friends. The team consists of:
- Griffin Bing: The Man with the Plan -- con victim and team leader.
- Ben Slovak: Best friend and 'tight spaces specialist' (he's rather small, you see).
- Savannah Drysdale: Animal specialist -- zoologist extraordinaire, and acting dog whisperer.
- Logan Kellerman: Actor, all purpose distraction and lookout.
- Antonia "Pitch" Benson: Mountaineer and climbing expert.
- Melissa Dukakis: Computer expert.
- Darren Vader: Muscle.
It is interesting to see a book for middle-schoolers that focuses on kids taking moral issues into their own hands in a realistic setting AND going deliberately against the law. This is very much a crime novel, and the kids are very much the criminals. Granted, they are fighting for justice, but Korman doesn't take the traditional out of vilifying the police and/or government. In my opinion this gives it a couple bonus points; kids are likely to benefit from thinking about moral grey areas, and I doubt that this book is going to turn anyone to a life of crime.
The story and characters are a little hokey, but given the target audience that is entirely appropriate. All in all, this is a okay book, and a fun book, but not a great book. It is probably a bit more relatable for today's kids than his earlier works, but in my opinion these are a step down from books like Radio Fifth Grade and No Coins Please. It was good enough, however, that I read the rest of the series.
The 'Griffin Bing' series is rather short at this point, currently consisting of Swindle, Zoobreak, and Framed. There are apparently no other books planned for the near future, so this may remain a trilogy. I would recommend reading them in order, but I think they improve as you go along. While they are all pretty good, I enjoyed the third more than the first.