Friday, April 1, 2011

Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears

Crocodile Tears by TheMouseFiles 

Now, I don’t want to hear any groans from people who have read an Alex Rider book before.  

They may seem to be aimed at 14 year old adrenaline junkie males who hate to read anything that could put them to sleep (incidentally that describes Alex Rider himself).  I think there is a little more to them than that.

But first, a few concessions to get out of the way.

I do realised that:
a) a fast reader can have one of these finished in a few hours
b) there is limited dialogue, mostly reduced to a few insults or mild swear words
c) if Alex Rider was a realistic 14 year old he would be dead after the first book in this series
d) when you get to the climax you know Alex can’t die, so you don’t get too worried
… or so you think!

Crocodile Tears is number eight in this series which was started in 2000 by Anthony Horowitz.  Apparently, the Alex Rider series triggered a trend of junior spy books, so maybe I’ll give Horowitz credit for being the first.

I have actually read every single book in the series bar one, mostly within my last year of primary school (and mostly within one week!).

Short and pithy, they didn’t become my instant favourites – I prefer a novel I can sink into for at least a week. 
Crocodile Tears is of its own specific genre which I can appreciate, and so into my fiction pile it went.

There are things I really like about the Alex Rider series, which I better share in case I’ve turned you off reading them!  I’ll slip them in the sparkle section near the end.

Cast of Characters [Characterisation] ~ 
Alex Rider is our reluctant spy working for British intelligence agency MI6.  He is only 14 years old which gives him an added edge when outwitting the bad guys, since they are usually expecting an adult agent to pop them one at any moment.  Alex has an amazing set of skills which include (according to his website) karate, climbing, pole-vaulting, snow-boarding, quad-biking, scuba-diving, pick pocketing (!), tightrope walking, and more.

Author Horowitz does a pretty good job of keeping Alex relatively realistic, no matter how amazing and talented he may sound.  
After each “mission”, Alex doesn’t come out in a blaze of triumphant glory with pats on the back from MI6 and a nice pay check.  Rather he goes back to school and hopes that it will never happen again.  In Horowitz’s own words, after each mission “he’s a little darker and more damaged…but he’s also, I think, stronger.”

Each book, including Crocodile Tears, has one ‘bad guy’ whom Alex will eventually come face to face with, and ultimately defeat.  Yes, yes, very predictable. 
Horowitz has come up with such an interesting collection of bad guys/criminals over the series, and Crocodile Tears doesn’t disappoint.  Desmond McCain is the founder of a rapid-response charity First Aid, past Tory politician, ordained priest in some church no one has ever heard of, and owner of a castle in Scotland.  What dastardly deed has he got planned?

Places we love [Setting] ~
Scottish castles, scientific labs, poisonous jungles, the wilds of Kenya… this book moves through so many settings it makes me dizzy.

Bricks and Mortar [Structure] ~
Crocodile Tears follows the standard Alex Rider outline.  It sets the scene with an introductory chapter (about a bomb in a nuclear power plant), then we meet Alex (on his way to a New Year’s party in Scotland).
After a series of unfortunate events, Alex finds himself in the middle of another MI6 mission.
Horowitz keeps his story going at a pretty steady pace – which is fast.  There’s no time for Alex to rest, recover, or stop and think things through.  In fact, sometimes things happen before the reader even realises what is going on.  Turns out Alex had planted that bomb, or cut that rope without letting us know…sneaky.
If I’ve made this book sound like it could be a little predictable, it’s not really.  Horowitz has an amazing imagination and obviously puts a lot of research into this series.  The situations Alex finds himself in are well thought out and usually unexpected.  Would you link a microbiology center that specialises in genetic engineering, with an abandoned safari lodge in Kenya?  No, I thought not.

What’s that sparkle? [Style] ~
So why would I read another Alex Rider book after a nice diet of Dickens and Austen?
The same reason why I would watch a fast-paced spy movie.  It’s entertaining!
Crocodile Tears moves at the speed of light, and just when you think Alex is surely about to die – BOOM!  Something totally unexpected happens and he’s safe again.  Yay!  Great Hollywood material; in fact, the first in the series has already been made into a movie.
Horowitz’s plot twists and turns keep me reading, and inspire me to think outside the box in my own writing. 

Sundries ~
Be warned that this book does contain a fair bit of violence and some mild swearing (like “damn” and “hell” from memory).

According to the front of this book, the Alex Rider series has inspired “thousands of previously reluctant readers.”   Thought I’d throw that in there.

Not sure if you’ll like Crocodile Tears?  Here’s a brief sample from Chapter Four to give you an idea of what your in for:

They set off, the tyres crunching on the new snow.  The weather had briefly cleared – which was just as well.  Edward Pleasure would need all the visibility he could get to negotiate his way down the series of hairpin bends that led to the main road beside the loch.  Alex took one last look at the great bulk of Kilmore Castle.  He could see the firelight glowing behind the windows of the banqueting hall and could imagine McCain’s speech ending, the balloons cascading, the kissing and the singing, and then more drinking and dancing into the new year.  He was gad they’d left early.  He’d been having a great time in Scotland but, like Sabina, he’d felt slightly uncomfortable at the party.  He loosened his bow tie, then pulled it off.  He’d have preferred to spend the evening at home.
The accident was so sudden, so unexpected, that none of them even realised what was happening until it was almost over.  For Alex, it was as if the journey down the hillside had been broken into a series of still pictures.  There was Edward Pleasure changing gear as the car picked up speed.  How fast were they going?  No more that twenty-five miles per hour.  The headlights were shooting out, two separate columns, distinct from each other.  Sabina said something and Alex half turned round to answer her.
And then there was a cracking sound.  It seemed to come from a long way away but that wasn’t possible.  It had to be something in the engine.  The car shuddered and lurched crazily to one side.  Sabin cried out.
There was nothing anyone could do.  It was as if a giant hand had seized the back of the car and swung it round like a toy.  Alex felt the tyres slide helplessly across the road.  Edward wrenched the steering wheel the other way but it was useless.  They were spinning round, out of control, the night sky rushing towards them.  And then came the moment when the tyres left the icy surface, and with a surge of terror Alex knew that they hd come off the edge of the road, that they were in the air with the black, frozen waters of Loch Arkaig far below.
For half a second the car hung there.
Then it pitched forward and plunged down.

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Now you have to read the book yourself to find out what happens next!

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