Inspired by our joint love of middle grade mystery books Amy of Golden Books Girl, Rachael of Bellis does Books and myself decided to indulge in a fun readalong of Lauren St John’s Laura Marlin Mysteries, and evoke the childhood joy of making a club although this month it will be just me and Amy as Rachael has urgent work commitments.
Across September we have been reading or rereading Kidnap in the Caribbean by Lauren St John, the second story in the series which finds young Laura Marlin whom we met in Dead Man’s Cove on a dream holiday cruising into a nightmare as the Straight As strike back.
This is the beginning of my ‘going in blind’ experience as I have no prior reading of the rest of this series. So if I say something silly, spoilers or that is part of the overarching plot I apologise in advance as this is all my reflections book by book. I’d advise make yourself a drink and a snack as I had lots of thoughts!!!!
Laura has grown tired of the drizzly cold Cornish spring and suddenly wins a dream holiday cruise to, and all-inclusive stay on, Antigua for the Easter Holidays, both Mrs Crabtree and Uncle Calvin warn her that things that sound too good to be true often turn out to be, but former cared for child Laura is adamant this is her chance to have an adventure.
However an unfortunate series of events sees Tariq and Skye still on board when the cruise liner sets sail, Uncle Calvin sequestered to the cabin with twisted ankles and a scruffy boy telling them they are being watched…. What could go wrong?
One of the key themes within Kidnap in the Caribbean is the interplay of Naivety and Hubris.
Laura’s naivety and ambitions to have the adventures she once dreamed as a cared for child led the ones she loves directly into danger, compounded by Uncle Calvin’s ambition to crack the marine poaching ring. The hubris they both recognise in themselves as they realise they have been the makers of their own disasters is a powerful one.
Though St John doesn’t negate ambition, only within naivety, a sentiment that stands out to me early on- if something sounds like it is too good to be true then it probably is a scam. Laura is learning this the very hard way that sometimes coincidences are telling you something!!
Similarly we see on a separate scale, Laura’s naivety as she struggles to understand why Fernando could be feeling sad on the cruise ship. She doesn’t realise the intense difference of experience between the world of the staff and that of guests on the ocean liner. She hasn’t got the maturity or experience to realise what circumstances may lead Fernando to take an unskilled service job he doesn’t enjoy where he is away from home and his beloved dog for so long stretches at a time.
She is also naive and perhaps prejudiced in her perception of Jimmy, which brings her further hubris as she learns she is wrong. Jimmy’s parents are a caricature of Western tourists, loud, entitled and rude, ‘Karening’ when challenged and with a messy sticky kid who likes to touch everything . But regardless of our tendency to cringe or snobbery, Jimmy does have his saving graces in that he hopes to be better and works on it and indeed is a hero- partly due to playing on his parents’ brashness.
Moving from revealing the rotten secrets of rural life in Dead Man’s Cove, St John shifts perspective to the darker side of paradise by focusing on the concept of dream holidays masking a nightmare both plotwise and in the socio-political undertones.
Whilst St Ives had its dark edges, this is nothing compared to the exploitation in the Caribbean, and the overwhelming take from this novel is the concept of conventional tourism as an act of aggression. Dotted throughout are nods to how rich people, or even those wealthy enough to afford the trip are often doing more harm to poorer nations who depend on this tourism to survive.
The impact of unrecognised privilege and luxury holiday destinations within impoverished nations is explored through multiple lens and make a clear argument on how foreign money, whilst bringing a boost to the economy, it doesn’t ‘trickle down’ as evidenced by the hawkers and artisans at the Antigua docks desperate to catch the eye and money of a rich arrival, and also perpetuates a service culture.
Worst of all it allows insidious groups whether businesses, individuals or in this case organised crime take advantage of desperate nations by the promise of quick piles of cash in exchange for land, resources, privacy or interests, yet they do not invest back in the island or community perpetuating the poverty and potential for exploitation. Montserrat the neighbouring island to Antigua being used as the example here, devastated by volcanic eruptions since 1995 that have left a wide swathe of the island held in an exclusion zone.
“Go to Montserrat,” he said, shaking Tariq’s hand. ” We need Tourists if we is ever to recover”Joshua to Tariq and Laura
Tourism as an act of aggression appears further in the way that Joshua says the volcano damaged island of Montserrat can only be saved via tourism, and we see the wry thoughts of Ira on Antigua who seems tired with the continuous incoming tide of rich, rude tourists who spend fortunes to travel to ‘paradise’ to just lie in the sun and roast themselves (and since publication likely just look for insta-worthy pics) rather than explore and spread their money outside the resort. This is evidenced in Bob Gannet’s frustration at Marine Concern, he just wanted to stay at the ‘magnificent resort’.
Coming back to Joshua’s comment, it seemed timely to spot this article when constructing my casebook on Kidnap in The Caribbean regarding the way Montserrat made itself a mask-free Haven for the super-rich during the pandemic. Whilst one may say the Montserrat authorities could be seen being clever by targeting those willing and able to pay for exclusive and private luxury, this not only risked the unvaccinated population but funnels them to low paying service industries; reduced the income of wider tourism dependent industries such as scuba, tours and such; and preventing relatives access to the island, just so the unbelievably wealthy people could holiday there and proves that Lauren St John’s point still stands a decade later.
There’s billions to be made out of endangered marine species. People focus on the cute and cuddly things,- snow leopards, pandas, gorillas. They forget about the sea creature. Nobody ever fell in love with a starfish or a tuna. If there was one less shark in the sea, who’d care?Janet Rain to Tariq and Laura.
Another key part of the novel is the slow discovery of the Marine Smuggling Black Market and how the exploitation of poorer nations allows this to perpetuate alongside the purchasing choices of people with enough money to persuade black marketeering of endangered species.
In addition to the wider market for endangered creatures like Tuna for sushi & sandwiches or in Chinese Medicine, the desire for exotic goods and souvenirs leads to smuggling and poaching of endangered habitats and species such as coral, starfish and even shells. It was an interesting dilemma watching Laura pluck a shell from the beach at the end, as the ethical choice by taking a naturally washed up shell and not paying for the stripping of resources, yet symbolising the perpetual demand for the trade by taking the item back as a memento.
Whilst the text was succinct, I really appreciated the inclusion of section in the back which explained in greater detail about the real life smuggling and how marine creatures are used and abused as a result but with an aim to empowering young readers how to be like Laura, Tariq and Jimmy and to challenge the industry.
Tariq grabbed her hand and they fled into the night. There were shout, but before anyone could come after them the limousine exploded… shards of burning metal flew in all directions. A great ball of white flame ballooned into the sky.
Whereas Dead Man’s Cove was more grittier modernised Blyton mysteries and fans of Fleur Hitchcock would love, I found Kidnap in the Caribbean is much more James Bond and Hollywood with direct elements I can see reflected from classic era movies Live and Let Die, You Only Live Twice, Thunderball, The Spy Who Loved Me and a dash of Licence to Kill.
As someone who grew up watching these films but wobble at the thought of allowing my own children to watch them due to the problematic aspects, this is a perfect way of evoking the excitement of an unfolding thriller adventure. That is with real danger but within the safety of a hero franchise that doesn’t talk down to children but operates within the safety , appropriate behaviour and ethics of middle grade literature.
And fantastic for it.
I had great fun with creating the layouts for my casebook for Kidnap in the Caribbean. I chose to show the journey from gloomy St Ives to tropical Antigua and Montserrat, called the Emerald Isle of the Caribbean, in my choice of colours and employed a range of yellows, blues and green washi tapes.
Once again I compacted the story into half or double spreads, although this time I used less small sketches and picked larger themes such as a porthole with target sighting crosshairs, a pirate galleon and exploding limo to illustrate the action.
Whilst I’m a little disappointed by my title page in comparison,I think my favourite spread is the Montserrat pages where I sketched the Soufriére Hills volcano in watercolour pencils from a real photograph surrounded by pretty washi tapes, and my points blocked in corresponding colours.
Overall, I’m very excited to see where we go with our October read Kentucky Thriller!