Book 1 only: Overall, this IS an exciting, fast paced, secret agent/action-thriller type story written on a middle school reading level with a little educational material thrown in as the main characters race through museums, historical sites, & exotic locals around the world. However, in addition to the less realistic (& less detailed) fighting & general mayhem, there are several dramatic incidents of over-the-top, intentionally shocking violence that may be cause for more than a little concern.
The first takes place while Dan & Amy are under attack by would-be kidnappers in ski masks, both physically & at gun point. Amy defends herself & neutralizes the gun threat using martial arts, but Dan ultimately ends the attack by threatening to set their attackers on fire with gasoline & a lighter. On the positive side, another teen (Amy's new boyfriend) is considerably disturbed by this incident & there is some brief discussion about how a kid could even think of lighting another human being on fire. It is unclear, even to Dan, whether he would have actually been able to follow through on the threat or not.
The next area of concern is when the kids, unknowingly & though no fault of their own, deliver the wrong ransom to the kidnappers who are now holding their family & friends hostage. The kidnappers retaliate immediately & without discussion by shooting, though not killing, one of the more likeable hostages & sending a video of the incident to Dan & Amy. The cold, matter-of-fact way this is done forcibly induces feelings of helplessness & loss of control over the reader as well as the main characters. On a positive note, the reactions of the other characters, again, provide a sharp, humanistic contrast to the shear brutality of the incident & do a fairly good job of demonstrating critical thinking skills when they evaluate their circumstances & come up with logical approaches & solutions. Later on, the hostages are cruelly forced to remove the bullet themselves, which has been left “to fester” in the victim’s wound further illustrating the callousness of their kidnappers. This task, which falls primarily to the youngest member of the group, proves to be a difficult one & is somewhat gruesomely detailed.
At the end of this book, a lady dies by lethal injection in the arms of the children which brings at least one of them to their emotional brink as the “reality” of the situation & the mounting death toll begin to sink in.