Friday, April 15, 2011

Currently reading: SMILING JACK

Taking a brief hiatus from the adult crime and thriller fiction, in the past day or so I've dipped into a young adult mystery written by one of New Zealand's most prolific and beloved children's authors, Ken Catran.

SMILING JACK was published late last year. Here's the blurb: "There's something wrong with this picture. Robert lives in a small, prosperous rural town where his father is a respected and trusted pillar of the local community and financial advisor to the eccentric but essentially harmless community of Atenists who live nearby.

When Robert's father and uncle are killed in road accident his comfortable world rapidly begins to unravel. With so much to deal with, he barely thinks about the evil grin on the playing card Jack found at the site of the accident. Until the second death, and the third, when once again Jack's leering malicious grin is found nearby.

As Robert realises he never knew his father, those people his father betrayed turn against him, and he is forced to look deep into the shadows that are closing in if he is to get out alive. A classic whodunnit with a startling and unexpected twist, Ken Catran's dark and brooding murder mystery is a real page-turner that will have you looking over your shoulder like Robert, desperately trying to second guess Smiling Jack."

I'm about 2/3 of the way through, and enjoying the read, although it is of course a bit more 'basic' than most of the crime fiction I'm used to reading. Catran has created an intriguing story, and I'm still wondering what exactly is going on in the town of Tucker. He also evokes a nice sense of 'small town-ness', where the locals all know each other, and each other's business. Which isn't always a good thing. He sprinkles some mythological, historical, and literary references throughout too (eg Kipling's poetry, Beowulf, etc), which is kind of fun.

Catran has won nine writing awards and written close to fifty books, and was also the 2007 recipient of the Margaret Mahy Award for services to children's literature. Here's part of his bio from the New Zealand Book Council website:

"An award-winning children’s writer and scriptwriter who has written for some of New Zealands best-loved television series. He has won many awards for his television scripts and in 1986 was a finalist for Best Overseas Programme at the US Emmy Awards. His books for children and young adults engage with the historical, the fantastical, and science fiction. He has been shortlisted many times in the New Zealand Post Book Awards and won Book of the Year in 2001. In 2004 he won the Esther Glen Award for a distinguished contribution to literature at the LIANZA Childrens Book Awards."

You can read more about Ken Catran on Wikipedia here, at the New Zealand Book Council website here, at NZ On Screen (for his TV credits etc) here, and in an interview with kid readers at the Christchurch City Library here.

1 comment:

  1. Craig - I'm glad you're also taking a look at YA crime fiction, too. I'm a firm believer in getting children involved in the joy of reading from as young an age as possible, and it's good to hear that there are well-written options for them.