The Treasure of Malaga Cove by John Gillgren
Publisher: Promontory Press (April 30, 2015)
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Reading John Gillgren’s The Treasure of Malaga Cove is its own enjoyable treasure hunt. I was immediately immersed in the adventures of history, the ocean, and more suspense than I anticipated from a children’s book. The author takes his readers on a captivating series of diving adventures and page-turning treasure hunts with the Cali Family as they try to solve mysteries of the high seas.

The story begins in 1577 on Sir Francis Drake’s flagship the Golden Hind. While looking for an easier path to Asia, this ship endure storms, battles with the Spanish and Portuguese, and Drake himself faces the mutiny of his own crew members.

The plot fast forwards four hundred years into the future. The novel’s protagonist Carmine Cali discovers a skull while learning how to dive in the Malaga Cove in southern California. Waves of mystery wash over the setting as Carmine can’t find the skull on a second dive. He spends several years with his wife, Elaine, and his three children, Snail, Carmen, and Caroline, trying to prove that the skulls exist, and link them to the flagship the Golden Hind and its crew members.

Gillgren is extraordinary at crafting a realistic and engaging narrative. The planning that Carmine and his family do for each of their dives, in addition to the time constraints, are point on with how a divemaster would construct his or her plans. Readers will anticipate every moment of action as the story pulls them in with the dangers that lurk in the ocean, whether it be the high tides or the sharks casting shadows beneath the water’s surface.

Readers will appreciate that Gillgren has created such a dynamic protagonist. Carmine’s protective watch over his family highlights his strong character as a father and protector. His reluctance to leave the water when they’ve found new information is realistic and captures the reader in the moment of discovery. He’s a character all readers will love and root for to find the truth in the end.

Suspense is the buried treasure in and of itself in this tale, and readers will never experience a dull moment. The plot twisted and turned in every direction, revealing by the end which character is deemed untrustworthy. The things I learned about Carmine’s family are presented in such a way that readers look forward to learning more about their individual character arcs in subsequent novels.

While many events unravel quickly, this is still an appropriate book for a younger audience and for a family to read together. It’s a fun story with straightforward dialogue and plot. And while the author judiciously presents responsible diving techniques and know-how, readers without diving knowledge will be able to follow along with it.

If anything, I think more detail of the reefs around Malaga Cove would have been a great addition to the story. The ocean adds a rich context to the tale, as well as an element of unexpected danger. However, the lack of some description made me revel in the details that were present.

Gillgren has delivered a mystery story ala Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew, but with more contemporary individuals playing those roles. The Treasure of Malaga Cove is a fantastic novel for children and their families wanting to dive into the depths of mystery and adventure. I will certainly read the next books in the series:  The Treasure of Ching Shih and The Treasure of Ocracoke Island.

This is the first book in an adventure series that will invite readers of all ages to set sail into the high seas of their imagination with the adventures of the Cali Family as they hunt for mysterious treasure.