Maurice Gee is one of New Zealand's best-known writers for adults and children. He has won a number of literary awards, including the Wattie Award, the Deutz Medal for Fiction, the New Zealand Fiction Award and the New Zealand Children's Book of the Year Award. His junior novel Salt has just won the Young Adult Fiction award at the 2008 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults and the sequel, Gool, was just released by Penguin in June. Maurice lives in Nelson with his wife Margareta, and has two daughters and a son.
Gr 6-9-- With Dickensian flair, Gee spins the tale of an arsonist whose guilt and troubled past are brought to light by a motley group of children. Lurking in dark alleyways, wearing black overcoat and red balaclava, emotionally disturbed Edgar Marwick finds release from his tyrannical mother by setting fires. The bak er's adventurous children, Noel and Kitty; the mayor's pampered but frustrated child, Irene; and homeless Phil Miller band together and boldly gather evidence that indicts the guilty man. While seeking justice, they witness the prejudice against Frau Stauffel, a local Ger man music teacher. Set in a small New Zealand town at the beginning of World War I, The Fire-Raiser reveals a community in which loy alties and prejudices intertwine. With the forthright support and courageous example of their teacher, the youngsters learn the power and price of fear and hatred. Well-drawn char acters, steady plot development, and sharp de scriptions make this novel an entertaining se lection. Some questions may remain, however, about the resolution of the conflicts between Irene and her parents and Edgar Marwick and his mother. Although the setting evokes a his torical time and place, the dilemmas and con cerns of the townspeople and children are uni versal. --Gerry Larson, Chewning Junior High School, Durham, NC