Vanguard Press, out now
Thirteen year old Charlie Wilson and his family head for a nice holiday in China – but Charlie and his dad aren’t on vacation. They’re most unusual agents for the British Secret Intelligence Service…
If you’re looking for a fast-paced, thrilling teen spy thriller, then pick up a copy of Bruce Abercromby’s first novel featuring Charlie Wilson and his family. The situation is a bit Joe 90 dragged into the 21st Century (minus the BIG RAT element!) and we don’t ever really learn why MI6 are happy to involve a 13 year old in their operations, but accept that (and we’ve accepted similar in the Alex Rider novels for one) and buckle up for a well-told tale.
Abercromby has obviously not simply gained his research online – as far too many such “globe-trotting” affairs do; the descriptions of life in China are full of little telling details that bring the background to life, with references not just to how they look and sound, but also how they smell and feel – something that immerses the reader more fully. This helps to cushion the more outlandish moments, of which there are plenty, particularly in the third act where it does get very Roger Moore-era James Bond! The action sequences, in particular the fights, all hang together well.
We spend most time with Charlie and his father, but the rest of the family – his squabbling brother and sister, and his put-upon mother, none of whom has any idea of the pair’s extracurricular activities – are sufficiently fleshed out that they don’t feel like cyphers. The MI6 headquarters scenes perhaps owe a debt to the 21st century Bond movies, with a hint of The Man From UNCLE thrown in – not bad influences at all!
It’s Abercromby’s debut novel, and there are a few missteps along the way; the main one is a habit of a character suspecting something, then someone else’s point of view confirming that they’re right too quickly – a couple of lost opportunities for suspense-building occur that way. (There’s also a couple of convenient bits spoken in English by the Chinese villain, which could easily have been translated for Charlie by the Chinese character with him at the time!) However, overall the narrative flows well (you’ll find yourself ignoring many of the section breaks as they’re not really needed), and you’ll become quickly engaged with the characters.
Verdict: A slick and very well researched teenage adventure that fans of Alex Rider and his ilk should thoroughly enjoy. 7/10