Precocious heroes

4th March 2005 at 00:00
Jan Mark on what keeps gets, and keeps, readers hooked.

Traces series Framed!; Lost Bullet By Malcolm Rose. Kingfisher pound;5.99 each

4 Aces series A Rising Star CA Budgen et al, illustrated by John Hales Imagineire pound;5.99

Bloodline By Kevin Brooks. Barrington Stoke pound;4.99

Golem series Magic Berber; Joke By Marie-Aude, Lorris and Elvire Murail Translated by Sarah Adams Walker Books pound;4.99 each

Young Bond series Silverfin By Charlie Higson Puffin pound;5.99

Malcolm Rose has rearranged the England of the future for his new series, Traces. Culture flourishes in the North, the South is a sink; midway is Birmingham School where accelerated learning turns out fully fledged professionals at an age when they would currently be taking A-levels.

Luke Harding, precocious even by these standards, is a forensic investigator at 16, landing his first case before he leaves school and solving it with the aid of his assistant Malc, a pedantic robot who does not do irony.

Framed! is a pacy whodunit, but Lost Bullet sees Luke cracking his second case in the steamy forests of London where Malcolm Rose, a serious writer, casts his customary beady eye on the nastier extremes of contemporary society, which really ought to include Malc, infallible only because he has instant electronic access to everybody's movements.

This is fast-moving storytelling in true thriller tradition, with enough subtext to leave a perceptive reader thinking. The pages are decorated with graphics of snakes and flying arrows which serve as a flip-book.

For those who prefer their visuals without too many words getting in the way, A Rising Star is a generous, well-produced graphic novel, the first of four charting Zack Cassidy's rise through county games and the youth team to Premier League stardom. Very in-yer-face with zap-pow artwork, it is nevertheless cautionary about the pitfalls of success and disappointments on the way to the top, replete with advice from real professionals concerning the importance of team play as opposed to self-advancement, and useful tips on etiquette, on and off the pitch. Unlikely to turn reluctant readers into avid ones, it will undoubtedly make them happy, which is, I believe, the object of the exercise.

Those who persevere when reading is hard going deserve a decent story in return for their efforts. Bloodline, from Kevin Brooks, introduces the Black family, "four generations of plotters and liars and cheaters and losers". As Finbar Black sits mutinously with his layabout father, conniving grandfather and moribund great-grandfather, a young woman on the run from the police after robbing the Co-op, bursts in and takes them hostage at gunpoint.

From her point of view the Blacks are not ideal hostage material and an unedifying game of cross and double-cross ensues, which leaves Finbar to enjoy his share of the ill-gotten gains, having turned out to be more duplicitous than all the rest put together.

A five-part series from France, Golem is a cyber adventure featuring a rogue game that breaks out of its computer and runs riot over a housing estate, apparently the one featured in the film La Haine. Transferred to an unspecified British location, its largely North African characters remain oddly unconvincing, as does the style, which veers from serviceable to execrable, being the combined efforts of three writers. Each book leads directly to the next, stopping only when it runs out of pages. Although a plot, involving subliminal advertising, is starting to emerge by the end of Book 2, the proceedings are too disorganised to be compelling and even proficient readers are likely to feel confused by the constant skittering between characters.

Young Bond is already trademarked, which suggests that a profitable career is envisioned. James Bond, for it is he, makes his teenage debut in Silverfin by Charlie Higson, creator of The Fast Show. As a schoolboy at Eton, young Bond falls foul of wicked Lord Hellebore who is more of a proto-Bond villain than James is a proto-Bond. The action trundles to Scotland and Hellebore's loch-side fastness. Bent on world domination, naturally, he is planning a master race with the aid of a mad German scientist, although so far he has only succeeded in making a horrible mess of his brother and producing a menagerie of mutant pigs and man-eating ueber-eels.

James, staying with relatives, meets his first Bond girl, the excitingly named Wilder Lawless - who is actually rather tame - and eventually things get explosive, but very, very slowly. James doesn't even get to drive his first Aston Martin until Uncle Max has delivered a two-page dissertation on the workings of the internal combustion engine. Faster, Charlie. Faster, faster.

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