VIOLENCE HAS BEEN A KEY INGREDIENT in every one of Kevin Brooks's novels, but never has it been so unremitting nor so graphic as it is in The Road of the Dead (Chicken House, £8.99). You will feel every head-butt, every punch to the windpipe, every cartridge fired from a shotgun as if you were Cole or Ruben, the two brothers who travel from London to Dartmoor to track down the killer of their sister.
Nineteen-year-old Rachel was on a brief visit to an old school-friend when she was murdered and her naked body dumped on the moor. Ruben is just a youngster. He's sent along with Cole to act as a restraint on the older brother, who takes after their gypsy father, a renowned bare-knuckle fighter, now in jail. Ruben also has an extraordinary gift of empathy, which gives him a degree of second sight. If someone he cares about is involved in an experience of high emotion, Ruben will be there with them. So it was on the night of Rachel's murder. So it is during the gripping climactic sequence of events in this novel.
This extraordinary thriller will have you gasping for breath as you turn the page from one violent confrontation to the next, agape at the author's ability to evoke the atmosphere of fear and intimidation.
In Graham Marks's Tokyo (Bloomsbury, 6.99), a brother flies out to Japan to investigate the apparent disappearance of his sister. Prompted to act unilaterally because his parents seem more concerned about the precarious mental health of his grandmother than the safety of their own daughter, Adam books a flight and before long is acting the private investigator.
The focus in this gripping thriller remains very firmly on Adam and not the missing sister. His investigations soon turn into a voyage of self-discovery, as he meets and falls for a Japanese girl. As usual in a Marks novel, the narration is in the third person with frequent shifts of scene. Vivid and cinematic, Tokyo is an immensely satisfying read, right up to the last page.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (David Fickling Books, 10.99) is another novel about the Holocaust (see Once in Kathryn Ross's round-up for 9-12-year-olds). Compared with Felix the nine-year-old hero Bruno is anything but quick-witted. When his Nazi father is posted from Berlin to be the commandant at Auschwitz, Bruno is overcome with self-centred sadness at having to leave the spacious city flat. He refers to the Fhrer as the Fury, apparently only aware that the man is his father's boss and not the ruler of the country. This aspect of the novel is neither convincing nor endearing, but after befriending Shmuel, a boy exactly his own age, and an inmate of the camp, the novel does become chillingly compelling.
Children's fantasy is currently awash with futuristic cityscapes. Cloud World by David Cunningham (Faber, 6.99) is a tale that will satisfy any readers interested in political science, as it covers such themes as democracy and revolution. A solidly constructed debut with an unresolved ending that suggests a sequel.
Political and sociological themes are also excitingly embraced in Chris Wooding's Storm Thief (Scholastic, 12.99), set in Orokos, a city surrounded by ocean and constantly beset with "probability storms" that randomly rearrange both the physical and social strata. High action adventure of a high order.
Very different from any of these books is The Tarot Reader's Daughter (Corgi, 5.99) by Helen Dunwoodie, an enjoyable drama set in and around Edinburgh, which builds to a satisfying resolution following revelations about a mother's romantic past.
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