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Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2012

Author: Catherine Jinks (b. 1963)

First published: 2005–9

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Crime fiction; Science fiction

Time of plot: The present

Locales: Sydney, Australia; southern California

Principal characters

Cadel Piggot, aka Cadel Darkkon or Cadel Greeniaus, a young genius with a talent for manipulating complex systems

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(The entire section contains 2012 words.)

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Author: Catherine Jinks (b. 1963)

First published: 2005–9

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Crime fiction; Science fiction

Time of plot: The present

Locales: Sydney, Australia; southern California

Principal characters

Cadel Piggot, aka Cadel Darkkon or Cadel Greeniaus, a young genius with a talent for manipulating complex systems

Thaddeus Roth, aka Prosper English, his psychologist, the chancellor of the Axis Institute, and Phineas Darkkon's second in command

Phineas Darkkon, his supposed biological father, the incarcerated founder of the company GenoME

Kay-Lee McDougall, aka Sonja Pirovic, his closest friend, a young mathematical genius with cerebral palsy

Gazo Kovacs, one of his classmates at the Axis Institute, and later friend and ally

Kale Platz, an American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent

Fiona Currey, his social worker and later foster mother

Saul Greeniaus, a Canadian police officer and later his foster father

Trader Lynch, the leader of Genius Squad

Rex Austin, a reclusive billionaire who provides funding for Genius Squad

Raimo Zapp the Third, an American specializing in computer-generated effects

The Story

Australian author Catherine Jinks's Evil Genius series follows the adventures of Cadel Piggot, later known as Cadel Darkkon and Cadel Greeniaus, an incredibly intelligent boy whose intellect and talents make him a person of interest among law enforcement as well as a number of unscrupulous individuals and institutions. At the start of the first book in the series, Evil Genius, Cadel is seven years old and living in Sydney, Australia, with his wealthy adoptive parents, Stuart and Lanna Piggot. Already a skilled hacker, Cadel has gotten in legal trouble thanks to his experiments with hacking into systems such as the Sydney power grid and has been expelled from his school, which was not equipped to handle him. Following those events, he begins regular sessions with Thaddeus Roth, who presents himself as a psychologist specializing in helping children like Cadel. To the boy's surprise, Roth proves very interested in his skills and urges him to continue exploring his capabilities so long as he does not get caught.Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Over the following several years, Cadel carries out various acts of mayhem, including disrupting the local train and roadway systems. He likewise causes havoc at school, having observed the relationships and actions of the students and teachers closely enough to be able to manipulate them in secret. During this time, he also maintains regular contact with Phineas Darkkon, an incarcerated scientist who believes he is Cadel's biological father. Roth reveals that he works for Darkkon, who is behind a number of shady operations, including the genetics company GenoME. While Cadel largely avoids making friends, he develops a close relationship with a mathematical genius named Kay-Lee McDougall, with whom he communicates under an assumed identity through a fraudulent online dating service he created. Cadel later learns that he has actually befriended Sonja Pirovic, a teenager with cerebral palsy, and that Kay-Lee is the name of her caretaker at the facility where she lives.

After Cadel completes high school at the age of thirteen, Roth encourages him to pursue further education at the Axis Institute, a school founded under Darkkon's direction and headed by Roth himself. As Cadel soon learns, the school is essentially a college for budding evil geniuses, teaching subjects such as disguise, embezzlement, poisoning, and explosives. At the institute, he meets a variety of eccentric students and teachers and is drawn into the complex relationships and conflicts between them. Although he is initially intrigued by his studies, over time Cadel grows uneasy, especially as many of the school's students and teachers are murdered or die in gruesome accidents. With the help of allies such as Sonja and his friend and classmate Gazo Kovacs, Cadel attempts to free himself from Roth and Darkkon's influence. Following multiple abductions, rescues, and escapes, Cadel finds himself safe in protective custody, having learned that Roth not only is a notorious criminal named Prosper English but also may be Cadel's true father.

At the start of the second novel in the series, Genius Squad, Cadel is living with a foster family while his legal status is being determined. He is under the supervision of a social worker, Fiona Currey, and soon comes into contact with Saul Greeniaus, a Canadian-born police officer who is working on the Prosper English case. Although largely relieved to no longer be involved with the Axis Institute, Cadel is unhappy at his foster home, where his computer access is limited and a fellow foster child often plays cruel tricks on him. While Cadel is visiting Sonja one day, the two teenagers are approached by a pair of adults led by Trader Lynch. Although pretending to be social workers, Lynch and his colleagues are in fact assembling a group of talented individuals, known informally as Genius Squad, to carry out an important mission. They offer Cadel and Sonja places in Clearview House, a facility masquerading as a group home for teens that actually serves as the group's high-tech headquarters. Both teenagers accept, joining Genius Squad.

Cadel soon learns that Genius Squad, which consists of several other teens skilled in hacking and cryptography as well as adults with various useful talents, has been funded by the reclusive American billionaire Rex Austin and tasked with investigating Phineas Darkkon's company GenoME, which Austin believes had something to do with the death of his son. The squad begins an electronic infiltration of GenoME's newly opened Australian branch, hacking into computer systems and managing to listen in on employees' conversations. In the process, they come to believe that GenoME's Australia-based leaders plan to help English escape police custody during a legal hearing, and Cadel works to prevent such an event from happening. English, however, ultimately escapes with the assistance of some of his associates from the Axis Institute. With the aid of two duplicitous members of Genius Squad, English infiltrates Clearview House and abducts Cadel and Sonja, planning to escape with Cadel on a plane and ensuring Cadel's cooperation by threatening to harm Sonja. Despite fearing for Sonja's life, Cadel works to send a message for help, which Saul receives. Saul comes to Cadel and Sonja's rescue but ultimately fails to apprehend English, who escapes. In the aftermath, Saul reveals that Cadel's biological father is likely not English but in fact a different associate of Phineas Darkkon. Having gotten engaged, Saul and Fiona propose that they adopt Cadel, and he accepts.

The third novel in the Evil Genius series, The Genius Wars, begins while fifteen-year-old Cadel and some of the other former members of the now-disbanded Genius Squad, including Sonja, are attending the University of New South Wales. Although Cadel is enjoying having the opportunity to live a relatively normal life, he is soon forced to go into hiding after closed-circuit television footage from a number of locations in Sydney reveals that English might be in the city. As word has spread that Cadel is most likely not English's son, he and his family fear that English will no longer refrain from physically harming him. Cadel soon realizes, however, that the footage of English is fake and that the criminal's image must have been inserted into the footage by a talented hacker. Meanwhile, a series of dangerous attacks threaten the lives of Cadel and those closest to him. Sonja's wheelchair is hacked, with the hacker sending her crashing down a flight of stairs and injuring her, and when Cadel and his associates later search for the location of the hacker, the mysterious foe manipulates traffic lights to ensure that some of the searchers get into a car crash. The most devastating attack comes when the hacker sends a bus crashing into the home Cadel lives in with Fiona and Saul, destroying the house and causing mayhem and serious injuries.

Convinced that he will continue to be a target, Cadel goes off on his own and makes his way to Clearview House, where he continues his investigation of English while hiding out in the abandoned building's basement. After nearly being killed when the hacker arranges for concrete to be poured into the basement while Cadel is inside, he decides to take matters into his own hands and secretly travels to the United States. There, he investigates computer-generated effects expert Raimo Zapp the Third, whom he believes created the full-body scan of English that was used in the doctored footage. After gaining access to Zapp's computer, Cadel presents his evidence to Kale Platz, a Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who had been instrumental in rescuing him from English years before. Believing that English has ties to Genius Squad funder Rex Austin, who has not been seen for some time, Platz and his fellow agents take Cadel along as they investigate Austin's seemingly empty residence. Cadel soon learns that Austin is dead and English has been hiding out in a secret complex of rooms located within the building. English takes Cadel hostage and attempts to escape on a boat. The boat capsizes in a storm, and English disappears and is presumed dead. Having survived yet another terrifying encounter with English, Cadel is able to return home to his family and friends in Australia.

Critical Evaluation

Providing a compelling twist on a popular fictional concept, Jinks's Evil Genius series turns the very idea of the evil genius on its head in a manner that not only intrigues and entertains the books' readers but also raises questions about the nature of evil, aptly pointing out that there is a world of difference between being capable of committing evil deeds and truly being an evil person. From the start of Evil Genius, when Cadel is only seven years old, he demonstrates an affinity for skills that could certainly be used for evil, or at the very least criminal mischief. At the same time, he is motivated less by a desire to harm others than by intense curiosity and intellectual interest. The novel makes it clear, however, that such abilities, though not inherently bad, are prized by those who would do evil. Indeed, English, in his guise as Roth, seeks to cultivate these qualities within Cadel, encouraging the boy to develop a distrust of society as a whole and subtly fostering a sense of dependence on English that would allow him to shape the boy in his own image. Orchestrating Cadel's enrollment in the Axis Institute further enables English to control Cadel's education and personal development by placing him in an environment in which blatantly harmful uses of one's intellectual and physical abilities are not only permitted but encouraged. Cadel's friendship with the unambiguously good Sonja, however, serves to mitigate English's influence, helping Cadel assert himself and come to a new understanding of his own identity and moral code.

As the later novels in the series point out, Cadel's choice is not between using and not using his technological and social abilities; rather, the choice concerns precisely how to use them. While the Axis Institute effectively sets up a strict binary between mundane skills, such as accounting, and their evil counterparts, such as embezzlement, Genius Squad demonstrates how certain skills that may seem potentially villainous can be used for good. One of the adults affiliated with the squad, for instance, is a forensic accountant whose knowledge of embezzlement tactics seems to be on par with that of the Axis Institute professor specializing in that topic; however, she has chosen to devote herself to exposing the fraudulent financial practices of unscrupulous corporations. Ultimately, Cadel's growing understanding of the importance of choice plays a great role in his growth from a somewhat amoral child to a young man who is willing to break the law to ensure the safety of those he cares for most, all the while avoiding the lure of true evil.

For Further Information

  • Driscoll, Beth. "On Evil Genius, by Catherine Jinks." Griffith Review, griffithreview.com/on-evil-genius-by-catherine-jinks. Accessed 30 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of Genius Squad, by Catherine Jinks. Publishers Weekly, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-15-205985-9. Accessed 30 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of The Genius Wars, by Catherine Jinks. Kirkus, 15 July 2010, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/catherine-jinks/genius-wars. Accessed 30 Mar. 2017.
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