Hurricane Gold
by
Charlie Higson

Review of Book
With a scene reminiscent of the Last Supper; 13 men around a meal table, one of them a traitor, one of them by the end of the day will be dead, the 4th story in the Young Bond series opens.  But that is where the similarities end, because the individual presiding on this occasion couldn’t be more different.  El Huracan has all the appearance of a benign presence, thriving on the fawning adoration of his ‘guests’. But question or undermine his authority and he will act swiftly as judge, jury – and executioner.

We’re on the legendary Caribbean island hideout for ruthless criminals, Lagrimas Negras, and there’s a big storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico. As punishment for ‘improper’ communication, one man must negotiate his way successfully through the gruesome and sadistic horrors that are La Avenida de la Muerte, or face exclusion – permanently.

What huge relief then to be taken, by the device of a letter from James’ school-chum, Pritpal Nandra, back to the relatively sedate world of Eton College!  James is recuperating from the serious injuries he sustained on his previous adventure, by travelling with his Aunt Charmian in Mexico.

While she goes off to study the native Mayan Indians, James is left in the household of Charmian’s friend, flying ace Jack Stone.  Very soon the same big storm makes landfall with destructive force, and James finds himself in the role of protector to the two Stone children. Together, James, 14 year old Precious and her 7 year old brother, JJ, set off on an epic search for their father, during which they’re taken hostage by merciless gangsters pursuing Jack Stone and his stolen secret US Navy documents.

And then we’re back to England again. Perry Mandeville is relating the latest news to James in another letter; the Danger Society is no more and Perry has been expelled for a spot of sheep rustling!

Back in Mexico, and several sundry murdered individuals later, James and Precious manage to escape into the rain forest and (after finding themselves in urgent need of a few survival tips from Ray Mears..) eventually make it to safety.  But safety is not necessarily the top priority for the now vengeful Precious, and before long we’re on the trail of the gang leader and into the clutches of El Huracan!

There’s a more mature feel about this story.  The contrasting scenes, the changes of pace, intensity and perspective, make it flow beautifully.  And as always, Charlie Higson’s descriptions of action and location are superb.  And James himself seems more measured in his reactions and responses. He learns a bit of ju-jitsu and how to handle dynamite which, naturally, he’ll make good use of later. 

Interestingly, rather than just being the token female, there is excellent character development for the self-centred Precious Stone.  She begins as an obnoxious little creature and ends up a terrific team player.    

Amid the various letters from Blighty, Charlie Higson seems to be setting up new Eton characters whose purpose must surely be to make James’ life difficult in the next book.  And we’re introduced to a 17 year old young lady from Ireland – another possible romantic interest methinks?!   

But for Hurricane Gold, what an absolutely gripping finale!  Over 34 pages of James and Precious’ meticulous plotting and teamwork, as their audacious and insane plan plays out. You’re just willing them to succeed, as they too have to negotiate for their freedom through La Avenida de la Muerte.  Fan-bloomin-tastic!
 
Review of Nat’s Reading
I’m quite convinced that Nat is yet to become aware of the extent of the pleasure derived from listening to his audios.  The growing band of passionate Nat-audio addicts will understand the pure joy of listening to a brand new recording for the very first time.  To hear in what tone he’s chosen to read the narrative, or how he’ll interpret the feel of the story, what he’ll do with certain characters and what treatment he’ll give the dramatic passages, are all eagerly anticipated.  It’s the freshness, the newness, the undiscovered.  It’s the not knowing – and it’s fabulous!

His reading is always of such amazing excellence. He brings the drama completely to life - for the first time I could feel, smell and taste La Avenida de la Muerte. And with a beautiful delicacy and sensitivity he perfectly captures the emotion of the moment. Professionalism obviously demands a dignified objectivity here, but I'm about to fail...!  Nat’s repertoire of wonderful accents and characterisations is all the while interspersed with that indescribably fabulous narrator’s voice, uh!  What more could we possibly need?!

Talking accents, characterisations and voices...

Nat will take such trouble with even the most insignificant characters, like the Mexican policeman with only 2-3 lines of dialogue, to whom he gives the most wonderful stereotypically comical accent. 

For Precious Stone, Nat did a lovely southern drawl something akin (particularly with her haughty and petulant manner) to Vivien Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara.  The sudden appearance of Foaly from Artemis Fowl (complete with attitude!), in the guise of “drunken English First Mate” of a cargo vessel, gave me quite a pleasant surprise!  

Added to his Chileans, Cubans and a Japanese, among his many different Mexicans, El Huracan stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Nat’s devised a distinctive characteristic together with a very deep and rich, mature and authoritative lazy voice, making you completely forget it’s him speaking!  He really went to town with him so that, baddie though he is, I couldn’t help but like him. An absolute masterpiece. 


El Huracan:

Did you really theenk theesch would work? 
Did you really theenk a hundred men had
not tried schomething schimilar before?”


But then there was gang member, Manny the Girl (with the most ridiculous, unlikeliest head injury I have ever come across). In print I found him rather irksome and somewhat pointless.  Nat threw himself into the brain-scrambled mind slipping in and out of gear with relish, but I found him no less annoying for that and was rather relieved when he was finally put out of our misery.

As to old favourites...

Pritpal Nandra is very much himself, Mr Merriott is more or less himself, and Eton’s Headmaster is exactly right.  But Aunt Charmian..uh-oh. 

As she has more to say in this story, I was very much looking forward to Nat bringing her back in her fully glory.  But she’s undergone some hideous transformation, from a matronly and warm Scottish lady to posh, almost plummy toff.  This is incredibly disappointing I have to say, and really important. Due very much to Nat’s interpretation of her in the previous stories, we’ve become quite fond of Aunt Charmian. Discarding or overlooking what he’d done before completely changes the character.

A final word then about the finale; it should carry a health warning, basically!  I’m finishing off this review having just listened to the final CD. Though the ending on the printed page was terrific enough, Nat’s reading of it constitutes, well... probably the most extraordinarily exciting passages I’ve heard him do – EVER. 

How he managed to sustain that degree of effort (and how the recording team coped!), I have no idea.  For an absolutely astonishing 50 minutes my heart has been pounding in my chest as Nat ratcheted up the tension and suspense... and at one point I think my breathing may have stopped altogether!  I am a total limp rag!! 

Anyone who’s under the illusion that sitting down reading for a few hours in a cramped recording booth is one cushy number and is not serious acting, needs to listen to this audio (or as Holly Short would have it; get some air holes drilled in their skulls..!) 

If ever there was a nomination for an audio award, this is surely it. 

Unbelievable, unbelievable.....

Now where is that darkened room...?!?!

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