A little bit like the movie "Oceans 11" for kids, Gordon Korman's Swindle starts with a twelve-year-old boy with a big chip on his shoulder who is out to right a wrong and get back what's his. It's his drive, intellect and ability to bring people together that makes the heist work and watching it all come together and biting your nails as they pull it off makes for a fast paced, funny and fun read.
Griffin Bing has always been "the Man With a Plan" and he is furious that the town council of Cedarville won't even give him and his friends the time of day. Without even looking at the plans for the stake park the kids have drawn up to be put on a soon-to-be-vacant piece of land, they vote to build the Cedarville Museum. As a way to show them that they can't push kids around and disregard them, Griffin comes up with another plan. The soon-to-be vacant lot is home to the soon-to-be demolished, crumbling Rockford Mansion. Griffin invites all of the sixth grade to join him in spending the night in the Rockford Mansion before the wrecking ball smashes it to bits the next morning. He doesn't miss a detail, from the cover lie to give to parents, what supplies to bring and how to enter the boarded up building. When Griffin's best friend Ben is the only other kid who shows up, even after the class bully, Darren Vader, dared everyone to go, he deals with his frustration by exploring the dark house in the middle of the night. Bumping into a desk, he triggers the mechanism of a secret drawer where he finds a very old baseball card. The next morning the boys are awakened by the sound (and feel) of the wrecking ball smashing into the house. The boys flee the scene as quickly as they can, grabbing their belongings and the card and head over to Palomino's Emporium of Collectibles to see what the card is worth.
S. Wendell Palomino, soon to be known as Swindle, is the less than reputable proprietor of the Emporium who explains to the boys why the card is not valuable and offers to take it off their hands for $100. Griffin talks him up to $120 and the boys leave with their cash. When Griffin finds out, via a televised news conference, that the card he sold Palomino is actually a rare Babe Ruth card that might bring in over a million dollars at auction, he is beyond angry. For years Griffin's family has been in financial decline, ever since his father quit his engineering job to dedicate his time to inventing an elaborate device for picking fruit. That card could have been his family's ticket to financial freedom and Griffin is not going to let it slip away so easily. When Griffin confronts Swindle with his deception, Palomino has his lies in order and Griffin leaves the store as angry as ever. He becomes the Man With the Plan again and this time he is going to break into Palomino's Emporium and, using his dad's blow torch, liberate his card. He only has to make it past the murderous doberman, Luthor, disarm the elaborate alarm system, break the safe and get out of there. How the boys execute the plan and what they do when the card isn't in the safe is pretty believable and and exciting.
What they decide to do next is where the "Ocean's 11" reference comes in. Utilizing the various talents of his classmates, Griffin comes up with a plan to break into Palomino's house and get the card back. The kids and their various talents make up a motley crew. There is Savannah, the dog whisperer, Antonia, the rock climber, Melissa, the computer expert, Logan, the actor and Ben, the "tight spaces specialist." When Darren Vader sneaks into the team meeting and threatens to rat them out, he becomes a dangerous but necessary member of the team as well. Executing the heist takes up several chapters of the book and the tale is filled with twists and turns that kept me reading well into the night. Korman does a fine job of keeping the story as realistic as possible, although the character development does not go too deep in this fast paced novel. What I love most about Swindle is Griffin Bing and his insistence that he be taken seriously by adults. Instead of the usual kid's mystery where they stumble upon a crime, old or new, and decide to figure it out, Swindle begins with a kid as the victim of a crime and deciding to take action.
The gang returns in Zoobreak, where Griffin and Ben help Savannah get back Cleopatra, her stolen monkey that has become part of an illegal floating zoo. In Framed a new principal, also a football fanatic, has turned middle school into boot camp. When his precious Superbowl ring is stolen from a display case on campus and Griffin's retainer is left in its place, Griffin is hauled off to a state school for juvenile delinquents. For once Griffin isn't the Man With the Plan. Book 6, Jackpot, comes out January, 2014!
THE SWINDLE BOOKS in order: