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- author Jackie French

Thursday 6 July 2023

Review: Riz Chester: The Counterfeit Bust

Riz is a 10-year-old primary schooler with a penchant for noticing the unnoticeable. 

She is reticent to share this phenomenon with others even her closest friends for fear of seeming odder than she already feels. 

Instead, Riz records her observations in her ‘Weird Stuff Log’ with enough detail and smattering of sass to make Miss Marple grin. 

And grin young readers will for Riz’s abilities are about to be stretched to the limit after she notices some faulty banknotes on a shopping expedition with her mum.

Suspicions are raised. Police are engaged and for Riz, doubts set in. Has she done something wrong just because she has identified an anomaly? Why is she being questioned? 

To determine if the money is counterfeit or not, Riz enlists the aid of her school yard chums: the twins Jenny and Sabrina and the two Lachlans. 

This enthusiastic committee of would-be sleuths are more than qualified to take on the case and do so with the elegant simplicity that primary schoolers with limited resources and access might be expected to adopt. They even name their investigation; the Counterfeit Bust which, it turns out, proves self-fulfilling when Riz and her team eventually do crack the case wide open or bust it as it were.

The beauty of this cleverly crafted, pleasingly illustrated chapter book is that it combines mystery and adventure with relatable characters. Because not every kid at school is a soccer mad, handball playing devotee. By focusing on Riz’s unusual ability to tune into what is below the surface readers in turn are exposed to a wider scope of understanding, observation and tolerance.

It's a storyteller’s greatest asset: the ability to feel, see, hear – notice – the minutiae that surrounds us because detail is everything. Stephens’ commentary that some kids are more attuned to this than others is delightfully straightforward without a trace of didactic explanation. When the powers of observation are harnessed to a purpose like crime solving, the possibilities are endless and exciting as some of our most famous fictitious and non-fictitious detectives have shown us in the past; isn’t that so Sherlock!

Riz Chester finally concedes to her weirdness which, as I learnt in my student years, is a wonderfulness that cannot be matched, giving this junior fiction series instant appeal. Her ‘Weird Stuff Log’ becomes a ‘Forensic Log’ introducing her and readers to the new and absorbing world of forensics. 

Lovers of all branches of science, mysteries, sleuthing and puzzle solving from the age of seven upwards will swallow up this refreshingly original crime busting series. My ten-year-old self sure did!

Keep your eye out for Riz’s next mystery, The Fingerprint Code coming out in November 2023.

Title:  Riz Chester: The Counterfeit Bust
Author:  R A Stephens
Illustrator:  Em Hammond
Publisher:  Wombat Books, $12.99
Publication Date:  1 May 2023
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781761111181
For ages:  7 – 10
Type:  Junior Fiction