Thursday, 31 May 2018

The Chalk Man, by C. J. Tudor

          It is 1986 and Fat Gav (yep, he really is), Metal Mickey (he wears braces), Hoppo (short for Hopkins), and Ed Munster (his surname is Adams which really has nothing at all to do with the Munsters, but …) and Nicky Martin, a vicar’s daughter and the only girl in their little gang are all 12 years old and go to the same school in the picturesque village of Anderbury.  They are firm friends (though Metal Mickey has a mean streak and is hard to like all the time) and are looking forward to going to the annual Fair, the highlight of their school holidays.
            The Fair is ACE, as they all thought it would be, until Ed is a spectator at a terrible accident as a piece of faulty equipment flies off a ride and badly injures a young girl standing nearby:  fortunately for her – and Ed! A cool-headed stranger takes charge, and under his instruction Ed is able to assist the girl until the ambulance arrives.  He and the stranger are heroes!  And how cool that the stranger will be his school’s new English teacher when the holidays are over.  Of course, it’s a terrible shame about the poor girl, her pretty face quite ruined by her injuries but apart from that, 1986 is going very well indeed.
            Now it is 2016 and the great potential of their collective futures is gone:  Fat Gav is in a wheelchair, crippled in a driving accident caused by Metal Mickey;  English teacher Ed lives in a state of gentlemanly and alcoholic seediness in his family’s home – his beloved Dad has died of Alzheimer’s and his mum is living elsewhere;  Hoppo is a plumber and still lives with his mum, who is very frail and forgetful.  And Metal Mickey, spiteful, hate-filled Metal Mickey, has returned to Anderbury after a very long absence during which he created for himself a new persona as a high-flying advertising exec:  he is threatening to write a book about the event that none of them can bear to face:  the brutal murder and dismemberment in the woods of the girl who had been injured at the fair.  Her body parts were buried here and there under piles of leaves, discovered by the boys as they played in the woods;  only her head was never found.  Now Mickey wants to write a book about this heinous crime because ‘he knew who killed her’. 
            C.J. Tudor’s debut novel, narrated by Ed, has more layers than an onion and covers much more emotional ground than the usual common-or-garden thriller;  there are several important sub-plots woven tightly and well into the main theme of the story, not least abortion-on-demand (Ed’s mother is a Doctor at an abortion clinic), and the fact that each member of the little ‘gang’ (with the exception of Mickey – at first) is an only child:  they are each other’s true siblings.  But what is the significance of the little stick men drawn in chalk that always seem to turn up when something horrible has happened?  I hope Ms Tudor’s next book is as gripping and clever as this one.  FIVE STARS         

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Prime Cut, by Alan Carter.

           In 1991, Alan Carter emigrated from England with his wife and son to Australia, ‘Land of Golden Beaches, Blue Skies and Flies’ – and all dedicated WhoDunnit readers in this part of the world are very glad he did:  England’s loss is definitely Down Under’s gain, for Mr Carter decided to write his first thriller, Prime Cut while being a ‘kept man’ in Hopetoun, a small coastal town in South West Australia.  He has since travelled across the Tasman and also resides part-time in the South Island’s beautiful Marlborough Sounds, producing another opus, ‘Marlborough Man’ (reviewed below) which was so good that I nagged our library until they purchased more of his titles:  I’m very lucky to be so spoilt, but so is anyone else who reads any of his books, for he has an unassailable eye and ear for the smallest nuances of Oz/NZ vernacular and behaviour – anyone from this neck of the Southern Hemisphere would swear that he was born here, for he gets it right on every page.
            His protagonist in ‘Prime Cut’ is Philip ‘Cato’ Kwong, once a rising star in the Perth police – he was even used on a police recruitment poster, urging young people regardless of their ethnic origin (Kwong is Chinese) to Step Up – those were heady days being the darling of the Higher-Ups, until a wrongful arrest sent his skyrocketing career in the other direction:  Now as punishment he is stranded in Hopetoun, sidekick to Jim Buckley, stock control policeman;  the only corpses he sees are of the sheep and cattle variety and  his marriage has also failed:  Cato’s life has hit the skids.
            Until the remains of a body are discovered by the local schoolteacher on the beach.  Initially it is thought that the poor man was attacked and half-eaten by sharks – until closer examination by forensics reveals that the torso’s head was removed by a chainsaw. 
            Cato can’t help rejoicing – while he’s as horrified as the next bloke by the ferocity of the man’s death, he is thrilled to be involved in real police work again, a crime that will require his undoubtedly superior skills of deduction:  it will be a chance to shine, not least because the local Plods just aren’t experienced enough to investigate as cleverly as he can.  He looks forward to showing the Big Boys from Perth police that they made a mistake in consigning him to the outer darkness of Hopetoun.
            The only cloud on his new horizon is a baffling accident suffered by a retired Pommie police detective researching a cold case, a brutal and sadistic murder in the North East of England thirty years ago.  When he and an off-duty police officer arrived to interview an old fisherman at his caravan, they were nearly killed by an explosion when they tried the door.  Suddenly, Hopetoun seems to have become Sin City.  Cato hopes the cavalry will arrive soon!
            Mr Carter’s characters inhabit their roles effortlessly.  Cato, despite his belief in his talents is forced more than once to face the fact that he doesn’t always get things right first time, especially regarding the harmless old fisherman, and especially when it comes to first impressions of his Hopetoun colleagues, several of whom taking it upon themselves to appraise him of a very long list of his faults:  yep, he has been weighed and found wanting.
            The smart dialogue and non-stop action keep the pages turning at a great rate and it’s very satisfying to read a novel set in this part of the world that rings true throughout.  Bring on the next one!  FOUR STARS

Marlborough Man, by Alan Carter

           In 1991 Alan Carter emigrated from Britain to Australia.  He is the author of a series of crime novels (which our library has yet to obtain) that have brought him great success, and he divides his time, so the blurb says, between Fremantle and his property in the South Island of New Zealand – the Marlborough Sounds, to be exact.      
What a wonderful advocate he is of all things Kiwi, particularly in his neck of the woods at the top of the South Island:  there can be no keener observer of daily life, good and bad – including NZ politics and big business and its effects on the environment:  he doesn’t miss a trick, as my dear old gran used to say.  Add to that a clever plot and engaging characters, and crime writing has never been better.
            Police Sergeant Nick Chester is in a witness protection program, fleeing from the UK with his wife and Downs Syndrome child to anonymity – he thinks – 13,000 miles away Down Under.  He can’t be traced here, surely;  he and his family are set up in the back of beyond at the end of a dead end road little more than a gravel track, so.  Why does he still feel jumpy (paranoid would be closer to the truth), continually on edge, waiting for a sign that his enemies are coming for him?  To make the situation worse, the discovery of a child’s abused and tortured body, dumped by the side of a local road has galvanised and distracted all his colleagues from the usual boy racers, firewood thieves and Saturday night drunks.  He should concentrate on this shocking crime, not on vague feelings of unease, no matter how disturbing they may be.
            But his instincts are correct:  the criminals who want to kill him have the means to pay computer hackers to find him.  They are on their way;  he and his family are in mortal danger – then another little boy goes missing:  his life has become a nightmare. 
            Nick’s colleagues rally round:  another safe house is found for his wife and little boy until he can ‘dispatch’ the assassin who must inevitably show his face, or be dispatched himself, but their concerns – and his – are taken up with the discovery that the body of the second child is in the same abused state as the first.  The whole of Marlborough is reeling with horror:  this bastard HAS to be caught – it can’t happen again!  Yeah, right.  That’s what everyone said the first time.  And making matters worse?  There are no clues;  no revealing evidence.  This sicko has done this before, including casting red herrings like confetti to lead everyone into dead ends which, predictably, lead to more dead bodies.
Mr Carter moves the action along at a very satisfying pace;  he is a smart, witty writer and his characters are all satisfyingly as they should be, from the villains (there are several grades of villain here, from the ‘good’ baddies who save Nick’s bacon, to the really evil paedo baddies that get caught in the end) to Nick’s colleagues, chiefly his sidekick Constable Latifa Rapata, smart-mouthed upholder of the local law and acknowledged expert in unarmed combat, when she isn’t ticketing boy racers – one of whom has fallen in love with her and wants to be engaged, even after a deadly beating she endured at the hands of the villain:  ‘Look!  Engaged, and me with a face like a kumara.  Isn’t he a sweetie?’  Nick can’t deny it, but Latifa is a sweetie, too, and from the novel’s conclusion it appears that we may not meet these great characters again, which will be our loss.  Chester and Rapata would have made a great team for a very satisfying future Kiwi crime series.  I hope Mr Carter will change his mind.  FIVE STARS


Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman.

            It is clear from the very first page of this unputdownable little book that Eleanor Oliphant is anything BUT fine:  as she tells us, she lives alone in a flat provided by Social Services, furnished with odds and ends by Social Services, and the only people who visit are repairmen, if they are needed. 
She works as an accounts clerk at a Graphic Design company, and her work colleagues regard her as the office eccentric when they are feeling kind, and the butt of ‘mental’ imitations when they’re not.  It is not an easy existence for Eleanor, but she’s completely fine with it – mostly;  it’s just that the weekends tend to drag a bit and time has to be killed with Vodka in fairly large quantities, especially if she has had a phone call from Mummy.  Mummy is incarcerated in ‘A Bad Place for Bad People’ but she still calls regularly, first to ooze pseudo-love and concern for her only daughter, then to hammer her into the ground with numerous examples of Eleanor’s failure to achieve anything, much less a normal life with normal friendships.  Eleanor must buck up her absurd little ideas:  she needs to find a Project! 
Yes, the weekends can be tricky. 
Until through a chance encounter she sees a music group performing and falls instantly in love with the lead singer:  this God is for her, she decides.  He will be her Project, her means to enter normal society on the arm of a Local Celeb.  For she knows that she must change herself for her own survival, to stop being a victim of her mother’s terrible scorn.  So (much to the surprise of Eleanor’s workmates), Eleanor decides to transform herself;  a new hairstyle and wardrobe  reduce her colleagues to shocked silence, and a ‘you look nice’ from the firm’s computer engineer Raymond (he of the unshaven cheeks, fat tum and horrid T shirts) produces an unexpected blush:  her transformation must be successful!  It won’t be long now before she can effect a ‘chance’ meeting with the God;  then she can start the journey on the road to normality.  She can forget about The Incident – the memories of which keep surfacing like the tips of rocks in a stormy sea:  The Incident, too awful to think about consciously, even though she carries scars on her face and body as a permanent, terrible reminder.  Yes, for Eleanor Oliphant to be completely fine, her life has to change radically, but she is the one who has to do it.
Ms Honeyman’s debut novel is masterly;  she has created a protagonist who could be Everywoman – Everywoman who suffered a terrible incident as a child, and how she coped with the aftermath and crippling loneliness.  Ms Honeyman writes with great humour and empathy and her minor characters are gems, especially Raymond, steady, good-hearted and Eleanor’s first real ‘pal’, even though his table manners are appalling and he sends her electronic communications saying ‘C U Soon’.  (Eleanor has a degree in Classics and she feels utter contempt for those who use abbreviations and can’t master the correct use of apostrophes.)  I was sorry to reach the end of this lovely story, sorry to leave Eleanor even though her journey on the Road to Normality had so many pitfalls.  She’s a great character – and deserves another book!  SIX STARS!!        

Thursday, 10 May 2018

The Woman in the Woods, by John Connolly.

          The body of a young woman is found in the Maine woods after a seemingly healthy tree toppled over and revealed her remains buried beneath.  From medical examination of the corpse it is known that the woman had died in childbirth, but there is no sign of the baby:  could the child have survived?  The local police have many questions, especially as the young woman seems to have been reverently laid to rest some considerable time ago;  she was not the victim of foul play.  But where is the child?
            The child, five year old Daniel, lives not far from where his mother’s body has been found, and starts receiving disturbing calls from a scary voice on his toy telephone:  it wants him to join her in the woods because she is his mommy and she wants to see him.  And so his nightmares begin but – as always – Mr Connolly’s legions of fans await with breathless anticipation the arrival of Private Detective Charlie Parker, that Dark Prince of Justice in this world and the next, (and hired by a local lawyer)  to unravel the mystery.
            He has many helpers along the way;  his cold-blooded-killer friends Angel and Louis for starters, though in this adventure Angel is battling cancer and his partner Louis cannot contemplate life without him – so he blows up a fancy pickup truck belonging to a local white supremacist (Louis is black) and, while it made him feel better temporarily it causes huge trouble for Charlie with the police he is meant to be assisting – not that they can prove anything, but still.  He is supposed to be on the Side of Right, not consorting with people who blow up Confederate flag-decorated pickup trucks.
            Charlie’s life is complicated more when distressing links are made with several killings in other States, seemingly random until his investigations reveal that the victims were sadistically murdered because they were part of a network helping young women and children leave violent relationships, hiding them and passing them on to the next safe house at the right time.  It is now clear where the Woman in the Woods came from, but who was pursuing her, and what did she have that they wanted so badly they would leave a trail of bodies behind them to get it?
            As always, John Connolly steers the reader unerringly through a plot complicated this time by a cast of thousands – or so it seems;  in fact there are so many minor players in this story that I backtracked in confusion several times, having forgotten who was who in relation to what etc. but hey!  That could also mean that I shouldn’t be reading so late at night;  my concentration becomes unreliable.  Never mind.  He is still a high quality writer and I look forward as always to the next unforgettable Charlie Parker thriller.  FOUR STARS

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Drawn Out, by Tom Scott.

            Anyone who has read a newspaper or the Listener Magazine in New Zealand will be familiar with Tom Scott, brilliant satirist, cartoonist, playwright, writer and torturer of our politicians of all stripes.  No public figure escapes his close attention if they make the news and after he has laid them bare in caricature and prose, cannot be blamed for wanting to fade back into obscurity – sharpish.
            Now he has written a ‘seriously funny’ memoir – not exactly bursting with malicious secrets guaranteed to bring down the government, but with plenty of inside goss on the great (and otherwise) events that he covered in his years as a political journalist, especially his time in parliament, and his legendary jousting with the late National ex-Prime Minister Robert Muldoon – who loathed Scott so much that he refused permission for him to accompany his party on its first official trip to China.  Not to be outdone, Tom Scott called in favours and, representing the Listener magazine, managed to accompany the entourage as far as India, much to Muldoon’s fury. The resultant articles plus cartoons did nothing to further endear him to the PM;  in fact he is famous for being ordered from a press conference by Muldoon as soon as the PM caught sight of him at the back of the room.  Tom Scott’s fame and reputation is well-earned, but Mr Muldoon’s loathing undoubtedly increased his X-factor.

            Scott’s parents were both Irish and he relates that a compelling reason for their marriage in England were the heavily persuasive powers of his mother Joan’s brothers when, discovering that Tom Scott Snr had impregnated their lovely sister (who had already given birth to twins Tom and Sue), they felt the need to convince the groom that it was in his best interests to come with them to the Registry Office to wed their sister.  They kindly helped him arrive – they had to, because they had beaten him so badly both his eyes were swollen shut.
            It was an inauspicious start to a very unhappy union.  The family emigrated and settled eventually in Feilding in the lower North Island;  four more children followed Tom and Sue and dear old dad who was an alcoholic and proud of it, treated them all with varying degrees of neglect – especially his wife, who suffered his fists and his butcher’s knife tongue – but Tom was the special object of his contempt.  If he cried, which to his shame seemed to occur often, it was ‘Oh, get the Weeping Bowl, Egghead’s crying again!’  It is a tribute to the hidden reserves of strength and intellect he didn’t know how to use, plus artistic talent and the very gift of the gab from his cruel old dad that enabled Scott to get a good education and lay the groundwork for his future career:  naturally, we, his devoted readers, are counting our lucky stars that dear old dad didn’t drown Tom at a young age in the Weeping Bowl.  He certainly sounded tempted.  Regardless, Tom Junior made a good life for himself despite his father’s scathing disdain, and he entertains us all with his vast, unstinting reserves of humour and a matchless ability to entertain.
            The book buckles eventually from all the celebrities listed in its pages, and an unforgivable editing sin is committed whereby another ex-PM Jim Bolger is quoted twice in different parts of the book as bragging about ‘the usual world leadership stuff.’ Very careless, but easy to forgive in the face of such quality entertainment.  FOUR STARS.  

Saturday, 5 May 2018


The Brilliant World of Tom Gates, by Liz Pichon

This is the first book in this great series written by Liz Pichon disguised as twelve year-old Tom Gates .  He’s really good at some things, like Art and English (sometimes) – and thinking up very clever excuses to give to his teacher as to why he hasn’t done his homework.  He can’t say the dog ate it because they haven’t got a dog, so he blames his older sister Delia (‘she spilt her coffee on it!);  in fact he blames Delia for a lot of things (I’m late because Delia hogged the bathroom!’ when in fact it’s Tom who locked himself in there to spite her), and does his level best to get her into trouble with his parents – ‘Mum, Delia’s got a boyfriend.  She had him here in the house!’ –He also hides Delia’s sunglasses regularly.  Yep, Tom is a bit of a stirrer, but he is not all bad.
            He’s best mates with his neighbour Derek;  they are both practising to be in a band when they grow up – they’re a bit rubbish yet but hey, they’re only twelve.  When they get more ‘professional’ they will call themselves the DogZombies.  Is that a cool name or what?  And he has a Megacrush on Amy Porter, who now sits next to him at the start of the new term (WOW!  Could he be any luckier??)  Yes, because Mr Fullerman has put him in the front row ‘to keep an eye on him’ (NO, NO, send me to the back again where you can’t see me!) and on the other side is none other than Measly Marcus  Meldrew, the most irritating kid in the school.  He’s totally sneaky and uncool and should be sitting somewhere far, far away.  Like Australia.
            Tom and Derek are huge fans of DUDE3, the best band on the planet, and they can hardly believe that these mighty stars will be performing in their town soon. Book One deals with their attempts to get to the concert – that turn out to be touch and go, because Derek’s new dog (called Rooster) eats the tickets!  (Truly.)
  Coupled with her great illustrations and Tom’s truly imaginative solutions to all of his everyday problems, Liz Pichon has created a great character that all kids can identify with – and all parents, too!  FIVE STARS

Brilliant, by Roddy Doyle

            When the great Roddy Doyle wrote this story for children poor old Ireland was in the middle of a very low time in its economy – and its spirits;  so many people were losing their jobs – and their houses – because they had no money to pay off their bank loans;  thousands of people were in such a bad way financially that they started to lose hope:  the old Black Dog of Depression descended on Ireland, and Dublin in particular where the story opens, like an angry, evil cloud.
            Raymond and Gloria’s Uncle Ben has had to shut his business down;  at one stage he was so busy he didn’t have time to answer his phone.  Now the phone doesn’t ring at all, and he has had to surrender his house to the bank because he can no longer pay the mortgage.  He is living with Raymond  and Gloria’s Mam and Dad and is very sad indeed.  Their Granny (who has her own little flat by the side of their house but never seems to stay there) says the Black Dog has him;  in fact the Black Dog has Dublin’s funny bone, she says, and no-one will be feeling better until Dublin’s funny bone is given back.
            Raymond and Gloria hear about this because they are hiding under the kitchen table listening to the adults talk about these adult things because they think the kids are in bed;  it has been a game they both enjoy, sneaking under the table without being seen.  They are horrified to learn of the Black Dog of Depression but because they love their Uncle Ben and want him to be happy again, they decide to search for the Black Dog and wrench back the funny bone – by force if need be!
            And what adventures they have while they pursue that evil animal, and what a surprise to find that other children, hundreds of them, are searching for him too, because they want their Mams and Dads, sisters and brothers to smile again.    Animals they meet on the search suddenly start talking, directing them where to go, until finally after a frightening showdown the horrid Black Dog is vanquished and forced to give up Dublin’s funny bone, for children are immune to his power, especially if they chant one word – ‘BRILLIANT’, and believe in it every time they say it.  ‘BRILLIANT’.
            This is a lovely story and sure proof that Ireland’s funny bone is working perfectly.  Roddy Doyle is just BRILLIANT.  FIVE STARS

Wildwitch Book One

Wildfire, by Lene Kaaberbol

Clara lives with her Mum in a flat in an apartment building.  Her Mum is a very clever free-lance journalist, and her Dad doesn’t feature much in her life – he’s a great Dad to have holidays with but she doesn’t think about him very often;  her Mum is her parent of choice.
            Her best friend is her schoolmate Oscar, and they both have to endure the predictable teasing from the other kids, usually about them snogging (which they don’t!)  But Clara and Oscar don’t care;  their friendship is too strong to be affected by such silliness.
            Life is as normal as Clara goes down to collect her bike so that she can cycle to school – until she meets a huge black cat the size of a dog on the basement stairs.  She can’t be dreaming because the cat sits on her and won’t let her go;  it smells of the sea and scratches her between her eyes.  ‘You’re mine’, it says and refuses to move until Clara manages at last to push it away and rush back to her Mum – who reacts to Clara’s account by ringing Aunt Isa, the sister she hasn’t spoken to for years, and blaming the appearance of the huge cat on her.
            And Clara’s Mum is right!  For Aunt Isa is a Wildwitch, a woman with special powers,  charged with protecting the earth and its creatures and she is the only person who can heal Clara’s ensuing illness, which is an indication that Clara has inherited the same powers, and needs to know how to manage and control them.  The huge cat has chosen her as its companion, telling her often (whether she wants to hear it or not!) ‘You’re mine.  You’re mine.’
            And she has an enemy, too, without even looking for one – a huge winged rogue witch called Chimera who is bent on enslaving Clara and the powers she doesn’t even know how to use yet. 
            What happened to her nice normal life with Mum?  She has to stay with Aunt Isa while she is an apprentice Wildwitch, learning how to protect herself and the environment:  ‘Remember, if you take from the earth, you must always give back,’ is Aunt Isa’s favourite saying.  Easier said than done, especially with an enemy like Chimera. 
            Clara’s adventures are non-stop, written with lots of humour, and with a cast of great characters in each book.  In Book two, Oblivion, we meet the Nothing, a failed experiment at cloning herself of Chimera.  The Nothing is so appealing (even though she farts and poos like a champion because she has the body of a bird – and the digestive system!) that Clara is able to rescue her and take her home to Aunt Isa – and a good thing too, I say!  Chimera is defeated and disappears, but everyone knows she will return eventually;  she is so full of hatred for Clara she won’t be able to stay away!
            I can’t wait to read Book three, ‘Life Stealer’.  This is a great series for ages 10+ - and me!  (And I’m not telling you how old I am!)   

The Book of Dust, by Philip Pullman               Young Adults

Volume One, La Belle Sauvage

Philip Pullman is justly recognised as one of the great contemporary Fantasy writers for children of all ages.  He made his considerable reputation many years ago with ‘His Dark Materials’, adventures in a dark, parallel world still recognisable as ours but with many differences;  now, he reintroduces us to that world in a Prequel, the first adventure in a trilogy, once again with Lyra and her daemon and alter ego Pantalaimon as two of the protagonists – baby Lyra, for she is six months old, and is being hidden by kindly nuns just outside the university city of Oxford.  Someone wants to kill her.
            And others will protect her with their very lives, for it has been foretold that Lyra’s existence is of vital importance to the World Order – which is suffering under repressive religious rulers who enforce their beliefs with unholy enthusiasm.  (Sound familiar?)  Those who believe in Lyra see her as their talisman, their beacon of hope in their efforts to overthrow the current regime.  A group of powerful men meet at The Trout, the local tavern which has a view of the convent, to consolidate plans for Lyra’s protection.  They are served by Malcolm, the 11 year old son of the proprietor, and he can tell from the many questions they ask that they are not just taking a casual interest – which worries him:  what can these strangers want with the nuns?  Why are they asking questions about a baby?
            The situation does not become any clearer when another stranger arrives and asks Malcolm to take him to the convent ‘to see his little daughter’ and, despite Malcolm’s initial misgivings he ferries him across the fast-moving river in his beloved canoe ‘La Belle Sauvage’ to the convent so that he may meet with his baby, Malcolm all the while hoping that he has not made a fatal mistake:  surely this man who calls himself Lord Azriel would not harm Malcolm’s beloved Lyra – surely he is her real father?  And Malcolm is so relieved to find that his worries are groundless that he lends Lord Azriel his canoe to journey down the river unobserved by those who were following him – which was a wise move, for ‘La Belle Sauvage’ is returned in sparkling, almost new condition – how great is that!!
            And thank heaven for the canoe’s new seaworthiness, for the worst rains in years pour from the skies, flooding everything;  nobody can remember worse weather or higher, more destructive floodwaters;  people are starting to fear for their lives – and Malcolm fears for Lyra, especially as a man called Bonneville has turned up at the tavern stating that he is the child’s father and he wants to claim his daughter from the convent -  Malcolm must rescue her and try to take her to her real father in London – if they can ever find their way on the great inland sea that the Thames has become.  His companion on the nightmare journey is Alice the kitchen maid, perpetually grumpy but devoted, as he is, to Lyra and her safety.
            Which is endangered every day as they are pursued relentlessly by Bonneville and others who would do them harm – and I have to say that I have never read anything more suspenseful than Malcolm and Alice’s action-packed trip through a drowned landscape, full of drowned people and animals.  They endure much before they reach London in their faithful little craft, and so did I (reading into the small hours makes Julia really crabby the next day!) but this is writing of the highest quality, the kind that makes us question our own world order, and what we are prepared to do about it.  SIX STARS.