Style: Average → Good
Attitude: Take Care → Unobjectionable
In Brief: A young man and his girl friend trying to help his wrongly-accused grandfather to clear his name.
Series: Boy Soldier
Published in: 2005
Age Range: Young Teens+
Setting: London / Sussex
- Danny is an orphaned 17-year-old who tries to find his former-SAS grandfather, helped by his computer-whiz friend Elena and a tabloid reporter Eddie.
- Fergus apparently turned traitor to the SAS while in Colombia. Now back in England, he's living a quiet life until Danny comes looking for him.
- George Fincham is an unscrupulous MI6 department head who has his own reasons for hunting down Fergus.
Danny discovers that his former-SAS grandfather Fergus is back in England, and goes looking for him. He's helped by his computer-whiz friend Elena and by a tabloid Hack, Eddie, who's after a scoop. At the same time, Fergus is being tracked by MI6, who are using Danny as bait.
Although I haven't read any of the adult equivalents, this book is obviously intended to be a cut-down version of the “true-life” SAS operations genre of action thriller. It is full of military-sounding abbreviations and codewords, carefully explained in a glossary, and does not stint when it comes to the violence, either.
Aside from being a reasonable page-turner it offers little of any worth. Danny's perseverance in finding, following, helping and ultimately rescuing his grandfather whom he initially believes to be a traitor is praiseworthy, but his motivation is difficult to understand. Elena's solid support of her friend is more straightforward, and the more laudable when you realise she's giving away money for which she had realistic, sensible plans, to help her friend. She does, however, electronically break-and-enter into several websites and a mobile phone tracking site to help him. She hesitates a little first, but goes ahead in any case.
While Fincham's motives are made clear by the middle of the book, those of the agents under his command are far less so: certainly they're under orders, and we understand them to be in the dark as far as his hidden agenda goes, but they seem all to ready to perpetrate acts which amount to unjustifiable murder.
This is the most worrying aspect of the book: the extent to which the reader is confronted with the way of life of a soldier in the field, and especially SAS and secret service operatives. Objectively, the morality of military killing is delicate, relying in time of war on a generalisation of the right to self-defence. But what about those such as the SAS and MI6 agents we see operating in peacetime and on no more than the say-so of their superiors. I'm probably not competent to judge whether or not Fergus is right to say “Kill them before they kill you”, but if I'm not, I doubt if any of the intended audience is either.
Like Alex Rider in his series, Danny has no family ties to speak of. The foster parents he lives with are upright and caring people, placing limits, but being fair to him and to Elena. But the reader knows he can leave them behind without worrying too much. Fergus has no regrets about leaving his young wife to go off as a soldier, and Elena's father left his wife and daughter to pursue money-making opportunities in Nigeria. When he returns, he's simply after more money in a different way. Only the foster couple constitute anything resembling a stable family.
There's a small amount of low-level swearing, mostly to emphasise Fergus' no-nonsense military approach.
- The rights and duties of soldiers
- Loyalty to family and friends
“Yeah, all right, enough,” snapped Fergus. “You've done the hurt grandson bit and I've got the message. But what I am worried about now is keeping us both alive.”
“Us? You keep saying us. Nothing's gonna happen to me. I'm out of this. You do what you like, I'm going back to London.”
“I can't let you do that.”
Danny laughed. “How you gonna stop me? Tie me up? Shoot me? Fill me with cocaine?”
Wednesday 25th January 2006