February 2011 Archives

Long Reach

Peter Cocks
Walker Books
January 2011
402 pp
stopped at p92
Read On? NO
It's getting difficult to actually finish some of the books I pick up these days, so I have decided that, rather than ignore them, it would be better to confront the situation and actually record the point at which I give up on a book, for whatever reason.

Sometimes it is the awkwardness of the prose. I was once at a launch party and was discussing with the husband of a fellow reviewer why he did not read children's books. He picked up a copy of the launch title, opened it at the first page, and seemingly at random pointed at a sentence in the middle of a paragraph. He didn't need to add any further explanation. It was a horribly worded sentence. Children love a good story and will happily pass over stylistic hiccups if the narrative is sufficiently gripping. This, it seems to me, is taken too much for granted by contemporary children's authors and their editors. There are too many books that are awkward to read aloud, that have a sentence to stumble over on every page.

Sometimes, I find myself thinking 'Who on earth is the target readership for this title?' Largely because of the 17yr old character's life amid "fast cars and flash women" you are probably talking Y7+ or age 12+ here. But by 14+, if not earlier, surely any adolescent boy (this is male-oriented writing) wanting to read a good thriller will be turning to a fully-blown adult thriller, something a little more savage than Eddie Savage. So the target audience is very narrow indeed, and one notoriously difficult to reach.

It's a shame because Cocks writes well enough and the book grabs the attention at the start. But it falls hopelessly in between the appetite for true juvenile thriller-writing, as so well served by the likes of Horowitz, and the adult genre. Cocks and his publisher clearly think there is some middle ground waiting to be served. I think they're wrong. It takes a quirky one-off like Kevin Brooks to really reach the teenage audience with thriller-style material.