Saturday, 30 January 2016

Crocodile Tears (Anthony Horowitz)

When I was a teenager I loved the Alex Rider books. They were fast-paced books with exciting stories and a likable protagonist. They might not have been the most believable books in the world, but they were sheer entertainment and could be forgiven for quite a few things because of it.

Unfortunately, I grew up. What entertained me at 13 wasn't going to hold my attention at 18 and 19. By the time Alex was killed off in Scorpia (sort of - he got better) I was ready to move on. I read both Ark Angel and Snakehead and found that the series had gone beyond barely believable into the realms where suspension of disbelief just wasn't possible. A hotel in space? In 2006? Really? The end result was that it's almost a decade since I picked up a new Alex Rider book.

A few months ago I re-read Stormbreaker to remind myself of the facts. One of the scouts at the group I help out at was going to read it, and I needed to know the story to test him for a badge. From there, I discussed the series with my little sister, asking if she'd read beyond Snakehead (like me, she'd given up after then). As a result, I got an unexpected present from little sister for Christmas: Crocodile Tears, the eighth Alex Rider novel.

I'm going to shed all pretense of maturity at this stage: reading it, I felt like a 14-year-old reading Eagle Strike for the first time all over again. The premise is ridiculous, of course, and the reader has to spend most of the time suspending incredulity, let alone disbelief, but it really is a fun read even if it is a little formulaic in places.

Alex, reunited briefly with (girl)friend Sabina Pleasure and her family, finds himself at a New Year party in Scotland hosted by international do-gooder Reverend Desmond McCain. As ever, Alex finds himself in a dire mortal situation only to save himself. When a journalist subsequently tracks Alex down and threatens to spill the beans on Alex's past, the young spy turns to MI6 for help. In return for help, MI6 put Alex back in the field, where his paths cross with McCain again as he unearths a sinister plot.

Although it's ridiculous, there's a lot to like. The characters - some familiar, some new - are overblown to an extent, but certainly no more so than any of the characters in Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton (OK, and Pierce Brosnan) Bond films. Horowitz gets McCain down beautifully - an ex-boxer former Tory MP cum insurance conman who grew a public conscience and founded an international charity for helping disaster areas who actually turns out to be psychotic lowlife seems quite accurate. There's also a sense of Alex having grown a little into his role.

At over 400 pages Crocodile Tears might seem a little on the long side, but it isn't. I whipped through in about 5 hours, and it won't daunt its target audience in the slightest.

Speaking of the target audience, this is the sort of book that will encourage reluctant readers to read. It's a point made absolutely everywhere, but when a book can engage kids with its story and characters it's a real victory. Horowitz has that knack of grabbing and holding his audience's attention by speaking directly to them and tapping into schoolboy (and girl) dreams and fantasies. Thoroughly recommended.