Maximum Security – CHERUB #3

Maximum Security

Author: Robert Muchamore

Publication: Simon Pulse, 2006

Pages: 320

Overall Rating: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]                       

Rating for Action: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]

Quantity of Action:  bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: This time CHERUB is working with the Americans to take down an international arms dealer named Jane Oxford.  She’d gone into hiding and the FBI have no idea where she is and no way to track her down.  But, they recently learned that she has a son.  If CHERUB agents can befriend him, he might be able to lead them to his mother.  The only problem: he’s in a maximum security prison built to hold some of the most violent juvenile offenders in the country.

James is sent into the prison with another CHERUB agent.  Their mission: befriend Curtis Oxford and break him out of jail.

Age of Main Character: 13

What I Liked the Most: This was easily the best novel in the series so far.  The description of life inside a maximum security prison was terrifyingly realistic, and some of the best scenes in the book involve James trying to carve a place for himself inside that violent and hopeless world.

He’s put in a huge dormitory where every kid has a place in the pecking order, and for the ones at the bottom life is a living hell.  The cell block is ruled over by rival gangs of Hispanics and Skinheads, who force the weaker kids to buy things for them at the prison commissary.  Those who can’t, or won’t, comply are beaten mercilessly.

James has to throw himself into prison life, getting into fights right away to establish his rep, and befriending the skinheads that guard Curtis Oxford.  When his partner, Dave, is injured in a prison brawl, he has to take charge of the case himself, breaking Curtis out of jail and leading him on a cross-country escape from the police.  And worse yet, he has to take his little sister with him.

What I Liked the Least: While James and his sister, Lauren, are largely left to handle things on their own, the actual capture of Jane Oxford is done by a team of FBI agents.   There were some very tense moments towards the end – in which James and Lauren are literally fighting for their lives – but once they were actually in a car with an FBI agent, searching for Jane Oxford, the tension deflated rapidly.  There was still the uncertainty of whether or not she’d be caught, but I no longer felt afraid for James and Lauren.

James does rise to the occasion when necessary, and can be both heroic and compassionate, but there are still a lot of times when he’s basically a spoiled, obnoxious brat.  Early on in the novel he almost ruins the mission just because he thinks he’s a far better driver than a really is.

It also felt like it was far too easy for James to get friendly with the criminals he was investigating, mostly because I often think that if it weren’t for the threat of prison – and a small core of compassion and empathy at the center of his character – he could easily have become a violent thug himself.  That probably makes him a better agent, but it also makes him hard to like.

How Good was the Action?  There was definitely more action here than in the previous CHERUB novels.  The prison yard setting forces a series of confrontations between James and the other inmates, and the escape was tense and very well done.  Muchamore also did an excellent job handling the cross country chase as James, Curtis, and Lauren get stopped by cops, run roadblocks, and feel the noose growing ever tighter.    The action continues right up to the end when James and Lauren are almost killed by Jane Oxford’s men.

How Engaging was the Story?   The prison setting made this a very engaging novel.  Life in the cell block sounded so bleak and horrible that it was hard to put the book down.  I kept wanting to know how James was going to handle it, how he was going to get himself accepted by the kids who ran the cell block without utterly sacrificing his humanity.  Few of the characters in the cell block are likeable, but in this case that worked in the book’s favor because it made it all the more difficult for James to survive and complete his mission.

Overall Assessment: This is a tense read and a gritty introduction to life inside a high security juvenile facility.  It was enough to make me very, very glad that I’d never done anything to get on the wrong side of the law.  James can be as annoying as ever, but in this case that’s almost offset by the maturity he exhibits when forced to take charge of the case and break Curtis out of jail.  Overall, this a fun book to read, even if you’ve never read anything else in the CHERUB series.

Profanity: Yes.

Sex: Yes.  James makes out with a girl when he, Curtis, and Lauren go to ground with one of Jane Oxford’s contacts.  There’s also a scene early on where Lauren has to get naked in front of a group of other kids, both boys and girls, in order to swim across a freezing river.

Violence: Yes.  There are fights and beatings inside the prison and some of the inmates get badly injured.  James himself injures a few inmates in fights.  During the escape a number of officers and guards get knocked out or tasered.  And in a desperate fight near the end of the book one man is stabbed in the neck.


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