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CHILDREN’S

From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos; Farrar Straux Giroux; 288pages, $16.99 Ages 10 to 14.

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Jack Gantos follows up his Newbery Medal-winning tour de force “Dead End in Norvelt” with another entirely original, entirely bizarre coming-of-age tale starring himself as a boy with a nosebleed problem on a road trip with his partner in crime, arthritic octogenarian Miss Volker, in search of a serial killer who has been systematically exterminating old ladies using ThinMint cookies coated with rat poison. Is the killer Mr. Spizz, an odd man who rides around town on a giant tricycle? Or is it the local undertaker, who stands to benefit from coffins filled with elderly ladies? Gantos keeps us guessing. The tale is set during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 in Gantos’ actual hometown of Norvelt, a town founded for working people by Eleanor Roosevelt, and Miss Volker serves as the voice of conscience, with her constant quizzing of Jack about American history (the fact that Abe Lincoln was notorious for the mass execution of 38 Dakota Sioux, for example, and the real story behind Ponce de Leon and his quest for the fountain of youth). The two take the train to attend Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral, then go by car to Florida in pursuit of the killer. The manic quality of the action is tempered by the text’s humor, wisdom and literary references, as Miss Volker imagines herself as a whale-obsessed Mrs. Captain Ahab, complete with harpoon.

– Jean Westmoore

SUSPENSE

Deceived by Randy Wayne White; Putnam ($26.95)

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Randy Wayne White has made Florida’s Gulf Coast an iconic part of crime fiction with his novels about Marion “Doc” Ford.

His new heroine Hannah Smith, introduced in last year’s “Gone,” isn’t a substitute for Ford. But she is an intriguing enough character to make readers look forward to her second appearance in the suspenseful “Deceived.” Smith, a Gulf Coast fishing guide who inherited a nearly defunct private detective agency from her uncle, lives near Ford’s beloved Dinkin’s Bay in Sanibel Island.

But White is careful to sculpt Hannah as a distinct character. She is not just Ford in a dress – not that this outdoorswoman wears too many skirts.

White uses “Deceived” to continue exploring his concerns about Florida history and environment, adding in scams, especially those that target elderly. The brisk “Deceived” twists and turns as often as Hannah’s boat navigates the hidden inlets and shoals of the Gulf while she tries to avoid the waves of human treachery.

The death of Rosanna Helms pulls Hannah into investigating the 20-year-old unsolved murder of her husband, Dwight. Back in the day, Dwight, like many commercial fishermen of the area, turned to smuggling marijuana after struggling with increased state regulations that put many of them out of work. With their livelihoods threatened, many turned to drug running to support their families. Rosanna’s death also may be related to a planned museum devoted to the “heritage of fisherfolk” that is pressuring Hannah’s mother and other elderly residents into donating heirlooms and money. Closer to home, Hannah gotten into a feud with her next-door neighbors who demolished a historically protected Indian mound and artifacts so they could build a mansion.

White connects the various plots with believable situations while delving into Hannah’s personality. The addition of history buff deputy sheriff Liberty Tupplemeyer adds a compelling dimension.

Ford plays a small but vital role in “Deceived,” but White wisely keeps him on the periphery. Ford and Hannah have become lovers but for most of “Deceived” he is off on one of his side jobs. These adventures, no doubt, will show up in the next Ford novel.

– Oline H. Cogdill, Orlando Sun Sentinel