Surprise, surprise! Here’s a cloak-and-dagger story for children from Jack Higgins. Co-authored by Justin Richards, the book makes sure children are not put off—the narrative is simple, the sentences crisp and the plot, not too convoluted.
No Liam Devlin, no Sean Dillon, but Higgins (Harry Patterson in real life) still makes for absorbing reading. And the Richards-Higgins combination works well. Who is Richards? He is the creative director of BBC’s extremely popular science fiction serial about the time-travelling Doctor Who, and followed up with his own version of Doctor Who stories. Richards also wrote the Invisible Detective series of children’s books. Besides, he has been BBC’s books consulting editor. Just the right credentials, one would assume. This story does justice to that assumption.
Sure Fire is the story of the adventures of teenagers Richard and Jade Chance. Their mother gets killed in a freak accident and they are sent to live with their father, John, whom they haven’t met before. No problems so far, except that John wants to send them off to boarding school. They also discover that their father is a spy for the British government.
The children end up bang in the middle of global espionage as John tries to evade Krejikistani agents who want to lay their hands on an all-important chemical sample. Spies get shot, a mysterious, beautiful woman follows them and John—he is the only one who knows where the chemical sample is hidden—is captured right in front of their eyes.
Drawn inexorably into the ring of deceit, the brother and sister are so infuriated that they decide to go and try to save their father—and the world—from the villain, Viktor Vishinsky. Among the other memorable characters is the one-legged Dex Halford, who helps them.
One level above the Hardy Boys and the Three Investigators novels (a generation ago, that was teenage thriller-fiction at its best), Sure Fire is different. And it slips right into Alex Rider—Anthony Horowitz’s recent, phenomenally successful teen thriller series—territory with ease. Rider, the teen spy, is a different person altogether. But for action-paced fun, Higgins and Richards’ heroes are right up there, with death-defying stunts, near-escapes and a tank battle. Maybe Rich and Jade will come back with more adventures.
Even if you happen to read the book, let your child decide if he or she likes it. Since there is a strong possibility that you will read it, don’t compare Sure Fire with The Eagle has Landed or Confessional —both vintage Higgins. It is aimed at a different audience.
The writer is editor of Heek, a children’s magazine. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org