Ripping yarns

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Michael Thorn salutes the return of the adventure story and a series that grows with its readers

grk and the Pelotti Gang

By Joshua Doder

Andersen Press pound;4.99

The Flight Of The Silver Turtle

By John Fardell

Faber Children's Books pound;6.99

Roman Mysteries series

The Sirens Of Surrentum

By Caroline Lawrence

Orion pound;8.99

Dawn Gray's Cosmic Adventure

By David Bell

Ransom Publishing pound;5.99

The Midnight Library series


The Cat Lady

By Nick Shadow

Hodder pound;4.99 each

Joshua Doder is not the first contemporary author to prove that the spirit of the children's gang is alive and well, but few have done it with such confident, bright stylishness. His first two grk books tap directly into the great tradition of children's gang fiction. The first, A Dog Called grk, shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award for first novels, was good. The second is better still.

Treating the restraints of mundane realism with the contempt they deserve, Doder quickly has his child heroes flying off to Brazil to help capture the Pelotti gang, who have left a trail of murder and mayhem. Tim, the main character, now has the two children he and grk helped rescue in the first book as accomplices, but it is not long before he is kidnapped and separated from Natascha and Max.

One of Doder's strengths as a storyteller is that he can engage the reader's sympathies with, for example, the account of the circumstances that have led an eight-year-old street-dwelling orphan, Zito, to carry a gun in his waistband, and neatly switch to high-farce action, usually whenever grk takes centre stage. The episode in which the dog runs amok in a light aircraft is one of the funniest.

I particularly like the way Doder does not consider himself too cool or original to dispense with the traditional resolution of a story of this type. So, of course, the gang is caught, a reward is neatly passed to Zito and, in a short final chapter, everything returns to a cosy normality.

There are to be four grk novels. I wouldn't be surprised if Doder is compelled to alter those plans and write more.

John Fardell's well received first adventure novel, The 7 Professors of the Far North, took a little while to get going, but there's no such hanging about in the follow-up novel: the first word is "BANG!". Again, it's a case of first book good, second better still. This likeable adventure set in Scotland can be recommended particularly for boys with a fascination for machines and inventions.

Such readers will also enjoy Dawn Gray's Cosmic Adventure, as will any comic science fiction fan. This madcap yarn about a family's attempts to escape the towing-away of the Earth is awash with weird gadgets, theories of intergalactic travel, and a breed of aliens who have their bottoms at shoulder level. Just when you think it's bound to come back to Earth at the end, Dawn Gray finds herself dumped in a land full of clones. So ends the first book of a trilogy.

The Sirens Of Surrentum is the eleventh title in Caroline Lawrence's excellent Roman Mysteries series in which children turn detective. In the earlier books the atmosphere was very much of children acting independently of adults; in this one Lawrence emphasises the much narrower divide between childhood and adulthood that pertained in the Roman period, and the result is something more sophisticated than a pure adventure or mystery novel.

While Flavia and her friends try to discover the identity of a poisoner, conversations turn to the differing views of Epicureans and Stoics, and whether 12 or 16 is a better age for marriage. It's good to see a series developing and growing with its readers, particularly as this series has always been best read in sequence.

The Midnight Library is a collection of genuinely creepy and scary stories for older juniors. Nick Shadow is the name on the cover; the actual authors are attributed on the title page. Allan Frewin Jones, a prolific series writer (Stacy and Friends and so on) has written a classic horror story in The Cat Lady, with a chilling and stomach-wrenching conclusion. Tina Barrett is not a name I know and her story, Liar is perhaps less original - a lonely girl invents a friend and finds that she has become a figment of the invented friend's imagination - but is no less unnerving a story.

Michael Thorn is deputy head of Hawkes Farm primary school, Hailsham, East Sussex

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