Fourteen-year-old Steven Trapp's photographic memory earned him the nickname "Steel" because anything and everything he sees gets locked down in his brain like a steel trap. While his talent comes in handy when trying to impress teachers or distract his mom, he doesn't feel it's enough to make him intelligent. But that's where Steel is wrong, because he's incredibly smart --- ingenious even. He's definitely brainy enough to compete in the National Science Challenge held in Washington, D.C.
So now Steel sits on a train bound for the Challenge with his mother, his dog Cairo and an invention of his own called FIDOE. Like dogs, his computerized robot singles out a specified scent and then tracks it; FIDOE is short for Fully Integrated Digital Odor Evaluator. While he's not worried about the invention itself, or even so much his presentation (the speech is locked in his memory), he's concerned about his father. Originally, his dad was the one planning to go with him to the Challenge, but for some strange reason --- one that his mom refuses to discuss --- his dad was delayed while on a business trip. But Steel is starting to believe that his mom isn't telling him something. Are his parents heading for divorce?
When his mom walks to the other end of the train for yet another private phone call, Steel notices something. A woman who boarded the train with a briefcase is now leaving without it. Steel jumps up and grabs the briefcase out of the overhead bin and chases after her. When he finally catches up with her, she defiantly refuses ownership of it. But Steel knows he's right; the image of her boarding is stored in his mind. Why would she lie? Not knowing what else to do, he turns the abandoned briefcase over to the conductor, yet he can't stop thinking about it.
Steel does find some comfort in having Cairo along, though she is locked in her travel crate in the baggage car. He finally manages to track down a conductor to let him in the secured car, and while he's happy to visit with his dog, he quickly becomes distracted by the lost-and-found section next to her crate. The briefcase is there! He decides to take a peak inside for more information, and what he finds leads him into a life-and-death international espionage adventure with the FBI.
Ridley Pearson has a list of published books a mile long, so he obviously knows what he's doing with his clever imagination. STEEL TRAPP: THE CHALLENGE has every ingredient needed to serve up an exciting adventure. The pages turn with fast-paced action, revealing the interlocking mysteries piece by piece. His characters offer a variety of personalities --- from secretive FBI agents to ultra-intelligent teens, all battling with right and wrong, and making choices. Pearson wraps up all the ingredients with his sense-awakening descriptions that really bring the surrounding scenery to life. Another winner from this bestselling, award-winning author.
--- Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman, author of FINDING MY LIGHT and THE BLACK POND