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Listening Corner

JOHNNY AND THE DEAD. Age group: 10-14 By Terry Pratchett. Double cassette, 3 hours. Corgi, Pounds 7.99.

Johnny recently seen on television having gained some slight sense of worth by saving mankind in a previous booktape, is now faced with having to save the environment.

The local council has sold off the cemetery, one of the few peaceful places in Blackbury, for 10p to a developer. Its tenants, local characters no longer identified fully with their corporeality, are indignant and so is Johnny. With his mates, Yoless the uncool black boy, Big Mac the runty skin head and Wobbler the computer nerd, Johnny takes on the might of harsh capitalism.

He does so by researching (nudge, nudge, teachers) in the local library and discovering the tragic story of the Blackbury Pals, local volunteers who were killed in the First World War. In the meantime, he and Mr Pratchett have a lot of fun with the voices of bygone Blackburians.

Unfortunately, it's a bit harder believing this fable than Pratchett's earlier Only You Can Save Mankind. A 12-year-old boy might save an alien horde from computer games players, but could he really rout a multinational company? Pratchett's sparkling observation carries the plot along, however, ably sustained by Tony Robinson's narration. And there's lots here for the teacher keen to promote work. "Adults will do anything if they think it's for a project," as Johnny mordantly notes.

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