From School Library Journal
Gr 4-6–Jack Carr has never really belonged. A foster child who has been bounced from home to home, he has one constant in his life: his obsession with Harry Houdini. Jack's luck changes when he goes to live with the professor, an old eccentric who is looking for a boy interested in magic. But all is not as it seems at the idyllic house. The professor had sold his soul to the Amazing Mussini, a magician of the dead. Jack suddenly finds that he is going to the Land of the Dead in place of the professor and is part of Mussini's Traveling Carnival. His only wish: to escape before he joins the dead. But in his way are his own success at performing his handcuff act and the brilliant mind of Mussini himself. Quimby keeps readers feeling Jack's tension and danger throughout the story. The Land of the Dead is a unique world with minotaurlike guards and bored dead people. The chapters are interspersed with excerpts in verse of a biography of Houdini. Though a little distracting, they do reflect what is going on in Jack's mind and are perhaps supposed to represent the book Jack always carries with him. Readers are sure to look forward to future adventures of the Handcuff Kid.–Clare A. Dombrowski, Amesbury Public Library, MA. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Jack Carr, a foster kid fascinated with handcuffs and Houdini, seems to have found a perfect new father in the magic-savvy Professor Hawthorne. But the professor, who sold his soul to the great, terrifying magician Mussini 50 years ago, sends Jack to take his place in a sort of underworld carnival of the damned. Jack forms a circus family with other kids trapped by Mussini to perform in the Forest of the Dead and perfects his act while planning a wily bout of escapism to return to the world of the living. There’s a lot going on here—including a nice series of change-of-pace poems that trace Houdini’s life—and Quimby attacks the onstage scenes of Jack coming into his own as the Handcuff Kid with particular gusto. She also uses some nifty narrative misdirection to swing a few surprises throughout, and if readers can quell a few nagging concerns (possibly to be dealt with in future Handcuff Kid novels), they’ll settle into a nicely paced, clever mix of ghost story and sideshow spectacle. Grades 5-8. --Ian Chipman