At first you might think the subjects of this novel are off-putting: it features youth gangs running scams and a baby-snatching plot in a maternity ward. Never fear. Between the witty word-smithing of Irish novelist Colin Bateman and the engaging voice of his protagonist, Eddie, readers are in good hands. Poor Eddie. He and his parents were planning a vacation in Spain when his mother announces that his father has run off with a colleague, they are divorcing, and she and Eddie are moving to the city, where she will work in a hospital. Eddie's mother tries to present this overload of changes in a good light, but Eddie doesn't buy her spiel. He replies: "I have lost my father, my school, my friends, and my home, and I also have to move to the city, a city you have always said was dark and dangerous and never allowed me to go to." Eddie is bored in his new home without any friends, so he starts nosing around the hospital. He realizes something is afoot when a celebrity named Alison Beech is about to visit the hospital and make a sizable donation.

Eddie's situation goes from bad to worse when his mother starts dating Bernard Scuttles, head of security at the hospital, a man whom Eddie instantly hates. He believes Scuttles is behind a plot to kidnap Alison Beech, but it turns out that the problem is instead the kidnapping of babies. Eddie is the only witness, and apparently the only one who can save the babies.

If all of this sounds highly implausible, Eddie's narration makes it riveting and funny, and the story always rings true. One does need a touch of black humor: for instance, Eddie meets a boy begging in a wheelchair who turns out not to have leg problems, and then another who indeed can't walk and turns out to be a gang leader.

This is Bateman's first book for young adults he has written several for adults and the first installment of a trilogy featuring Eddie. His writing is so engaging that you may find yourself seeking out his adult books.

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