19th May 2000 at 01:00
RUNNING OUT OF TIME. By Margaret Peterson Haddix. Bodley Head pound;10.99. SPACE RACE. By Sylvia Waugh. Bodley Head pound;10.99. HARVEY ANGELL BEATS TIME. By Diana Hendry. Red Fox pound;3.99.

Running Out Of Time was first published in the US in 1995 and cannot, therefore, have been influenced by the film The Truman Show, nor by the spate of television documentaries in which the behaviour of a group of individuals is voyeuristically observed. That the originality of the novel has been somewhat undermined by these entertainments in no way detracts from its impact.

Jessie lives in the village of Clifton, an elaborate heritage centre - a fake world populated by people who have agreed to live as if time had been turned back 150 years. The year is actually 1996, and when diphtheria strikes the "1840" village Jessie is sent out at great risk to seek medical help.

She discovers that Clifton was established with a far more sinister intent than simply to provide tourists with an educational experience. The book, which raises the issue of genetic manipulation, will challenge readers to consider whether it is ever right to sacrifice a few for the benefit of the many.

This tense and thought-provoking novel, in which the "race against time" aspect of Jessie's mercy mission runs cleverly alongside her sense of moving out of one time into another, is heartily recommended.

The two main characters in Sylvia Waugh's Space Race are also living a charade. Patrick Derwent and his son Thomas are really from the planet Ormingat, but for the past five years they have been living in the village of Belthorp.

Father and son hav been sent to Earth to spy on human behaviour. Every day, Thomas records the events and his observations in great detail. But when the time comes for them to return to their planet, disaster strikes. A lorry runs them down while they are crossing a road. Thomas is hospitalised and Patrick, having had to "diminish" himself to survive, is forced to "race against time" alone and relocate their spacecraft, buried beneath the Scott monument in Edinburgh.

Patrick is a bit lifeless as a character, and this seriously weakens the second half of the novel. The tension in Thomas's mind as he ponders whether to stay on Earth or return to his home planet is not sufficiently compelling to offset the fact that he is uninvolved in the action.

Harvey Angell Beats Time is Diana Hendry's third book about Harvey the "Homer", who turns unhappy houses into happy homes. The familiar characters of 131 Ballantyre Road are there - Henry, Aunt Agatha, Mr Perkins, Miss Muggins and Miss Skivvy.

The novel begins with Henry discovering a foundling babe on Ballantyre Road's doorstep. It transpires that the baby has slipped through time from the 23rd century and her limited supply of mother love is being used up. Harvey Angell will have to work his magic quickly if she is to survive.

The ending, in which the child's mother slips halfway back through time to make the job easier, seems a touch throwaway and a certain amount of the book is spent re-establishing things that readers of the first two novels will already be familiar with.

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

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