Double or Die
Charlie Higson



Review of Book
I was looking forward to reading something undemanding and different to that that I’d just finished (a fascinating book about the stories behind the names on British war memorials, and from the Mass Observation project a thoroughly good read in the form of the wartime diary of an ordinary housewife) when the third Young Bond dropped through the letterbox. 

“Kidnap. Violence. Explosions. Murder”… could so easily have been the day’s news headlines but no, they were the words printed in bold on the back cover to whet the appetite.  Oh dear I thought, especially as I’d had a very poor opinion of the previous story.  But I persevered.

As it turned out, it was an altogether more cohesive and uncomplicated effort; a real page-turner with far more warmth than before, with James acting as part of a team for a change.  The action kicks off from the word go and the plot is very cleverly done and perfectly paced.  I really cared about what was happening.  It had atmosphere, lots of derring-do – and all the right people ended up dead! 

It was barely 3 months since James’ last dice with death, but although he’d promised Eton’s new headmaster that he would stay out of trouble, trouble tracks him down, without too much trouble… A good mysterious opening finds one of James’ tutors in big trouble in Highgate Cemetery, North London from where he is abducted by armed thugs.  Pretty well all of the action and adventure takes place in and around London this time, with the exception of a short excursion to Cambridge, where James is following clues from a cipher sent by said abducted master. 

Although much of the coded message appears at first to be meaningless gibberish, with a little help from his friends James succeeds in figuring it all out.  In the process he finds himself on a mission not only to rescue the eccentric master but, in a race against time in one of those ‘for the good of humanity’ quests, track down and permanently remove the Nemesis machine from enemy hands. 

All this and more he does through a spot of burglary and arson, an uncomfortable journey on a secret and abandoned pneumatic railway beneath London’s streets, and in spite of encountering down-and-outs and vagrants, unhinged and otherwise!

Narrows escapes abound as you’d expect; a high-speed car chase ending in an inferno, concealment in the boot of another car belonging to cold-blooded killers, a dose of alcoholic poisoning and then flight from a ship bound for Russia, ending in an exciting climax in 1930s London Docklands.

How fantastic and refreshing it was to have, with Charlie Higson’s use of cryptic clues, anagrams, crosswords etc, something that kids (and the rest of us!) can have to exercise their brains, instead of being passively entertained, or de-sensitized further with plain old blood and gore!  Some of the clues work better though if you have the book to look at, rather than just listening to Nat’s audio.

Certainly after Blood Fever, Charlie Higson seems to have recalled the age group he’s writing for.  I have to say though, that after the adventure has concluded and he takes us forward 12 years, to post-war Britain when James is an adult, for me it spoiled the atmosphere somewhat.  I could see why he’d done it, but a shame nonetheless.   But then I liked this story a lot.  In fact I think it’s the best of the series so far.

Review of Nat’s Reading
Ahh.. the pleasure of a new Nat audio… never fades!  Thankfully the Chivers library edition was available for me to borrow a full six months before release from other publishers, just as I was getting very twitchy for the fix of something fresh from Nat. 

The story lends itself to narration that is simply good and solid and very enjoyable.  Nat makes a steady pace interspersed with the action and danger, which he does with his usual effortlessly clear and precise perfection.  His voice, on the other hand, has deepened yet another couple of notches – wow, is all I have to say about that...  And happily there’s a lot of narration to be able to sample it…!

There’s nothing ‘gimmicky’ by way of lots of odd or colourful characters for Nat to work on, though there is a full-blown nasty in the shape of Sir John Charnage for him to get his teeth into.  And what a fab job he does with him, using a subtle evil quality I’ve not heard him do before; changing slightly from gravelly and harsh to a smooth aristocratic drawl as the scene demands.  

There are lots of deep and long chuckles, and his slightly sneering, nasal voice for Eton’s new head bears an uncanny resemblance to Nat’s own headmaster, as mimicked by him in a recent radio interview – wonderful!

James’ school chum Pritpal Nandra has much more to say this time, but Nat’s Indian accent for him never falters.  Amazing.  There are a lot of ‘London/Cockney’ accents in the story and I wondered how on earth he was going to help us differentiate between them all.  No trouble though for him to do several cabbies, a grocer’s errand boy, a policeman with a broken nose - and the evil Smith brothers, who when I read the book first, reminded me of Nat’s Pex and Chips in ‘Artemis Fowl and The Eternity Code’, but without the comedy! 

I was delighted that Red Kelly makes another appearance, because of Nat’s portrayal of him in the first book.  We’re introduced to several of Red’s family and friends, some of whom have East End accents while one or two are Irish – both of which Nat can do in his sleep!

The language is ‘colourful’ in places, with much more mild swearing than in the previous two books; realistic and pretty tame compared to what kids today are familiar with I know, but a pity I thought.   But it was great fun to hear Nat say several words in the vernacular, such as “clobber”, “nosh” and “rozzers”..!

Running time - 8 hours, 34 minutes 

Published by
Chivers Children’s Audiobooks
ISBN Cassette 9781405653268
October 2007
ISBN CD 9781405658331
November 2007

Listening Library
ISBN CD 0739350552
April 2008

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