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Four kids in New York City. A series of underground tunnels and caves. A small secret civilization living beneath the city. A dangerous villain using the tunnels for his own purposes. A hidden treasure that could be worth millions of dollars, or even be priceless beyond mere money alone. And four hidden pieces of a treasure map to point the way. All components which could add up really well to a great adventure.
Pyrates is really good at using its components well. There's many twists and turns in the adventure, and the plot elements and characterizations are used in creative and suspenseful ways. The kids use their walkie-talkies to triangulate their position when one is aboveground and the others underground, for instance. Renee, whose family goes spelunking on vacation at times and is therefore the expert in such matters, climbs down the side of a building in an alleyway to pull off a rescue. It's almost Stratemeyer-esque, but handled more plausibly. The kids do what they can within the limits of their abilities and knowledge. Heck, staying up way past midnight — twice — takes its toll on them the next day!
In a way, that's almost what Pyrates is: a modernization of those types of "Kid Hero" or "Kid Detective" stories, that reconstructs those stories and reinvents them with more modern ideas and believable explanations for why Adults Are Useless and why the kids can't go to the police for help. The villain even implies he has a cop on his payroll!
The fourth book is where things change considerably, and it's a mixed bag. It's my least favorite of the series, as Adults Are Useless gets turned around, by making adults vital and even actively involved, which is just less fun. It also is less believable; even though there's a good amount of "You kids stay home; I don't want anything to happen to you," the adults let the kids take more charge than adults realistically likely would. Ultimately, though, the kids do get separated and end up having to do things their own way.
The last few chapters are gripping, suspenseful, and tie everything together and wrap up the story's elements brilliantly. It's precisely how a series like this should end.
In short, good beginning, great middle, and disappointing fourth book except for the fantastic ending. A lot of fun overall, and worth checking out.
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