CRYPT: The Gallows Curse by Andrew Hammond

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CRYPT: The Gallows Curse by Andrew Hammond

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: From the darkness of a Central Line tunnel to the stark skyline of a building site, ghosts are rising to exact a bloody vengeance on the living. Jud and the other young agents in his team have to find out the connection between a bunch of seventeenth-century highwaymen and various sites around London before even more people die.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: September 2011
Publisher: Headline
ISBN: 978-0755378210

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A warning: do not begin to read this book while eating your lunch, as this unfortunate reviewer did. There's nothing quite like the description of people in an underground train being ripped apart, then having their faces chewed off by bugs, to put you off your egg and cress. In fact, you may develop a strong aversion to the whole of London Transport by the time you've finished this book, which will definitely not please Uncle Boris.

But despite the opening scenes, this book is not merely a gore-fest (and after the first one, readers of a delicate disposition will be able to recognise the signs that a yuck-bit is coming and speed-read till it's safely over). It is a cracking good story, with an unusual and relevant back-story for Jud, the young hero, and thoroughly reasonable, clear motives for its billionaire patron to finance CRYPT (the Covert Response Youth Paranormal Team) in its work.

It is based on a premise familiar in fiction for this age-group, that teens and children can be highly susceptible to certain phenomena, and better able to pass unnoticed through the throngs of people who surround major events. You'd think the adults would have worked it out by now, wouldn't you? Still, ploy though it is, it does have some small resonance with reality, as it borne out by the uproar about shops trying to chase unruly youths away from their forecourts by playing a high-pitched whine adults cannot perceive. You have the regulation luxurious quarters and fabulous gadgetry including motor bikes that'll make your teeth grind in envy, and of course Jud finds himself reluctantly paired with a brainy, feisty and exotically beautiful new partner.

But this isn't a knock-off in the mould of CHERUB, Rider, Young Bond and the rest. Jud is a tortured soul, accused and imprisoned for a horrific crime, longing to prove his innocence but unable to find the means. He struggles with a knife-edge temper, and some of the other young agents are not above winding him up in order to enjoy the inevitable explosion of anger which ensues. It gets so bad he actually tries to walk away from CRYPT, even though it would mean being a fugitive for life. He is a flawed character with a lot to contend with, and this makes him and his story all the more fascinating.

The setting is clearly London right now, and fans of this book (and, eventually, series) could walk about the capital and actually check out the places described. Because of this the reader is able on the one hand to identify easily with the characters, and on the other hand the immediacy, the authenticity makes the violence all the more shocking. The villains are fairly stereotypical to begin with, being recognisable types from recent news items and detective series on TV, but enough attention is paid to their qualms, failings and motivations to make them more rounded than we have come to expect from this type of story.

There's a fair amount of historical fact in this book, though it never feels as if the author included any facts in order to educate the reader. Every place, every piece of data, is there for a genuine reason and furthers the resolution of the book. It has to be said, anyone who has a reasonably good knowledge of London in the seventeenth century will reach conclusions about the reasons for the gory uprising well before the CRYPT agents, but the action moves so quickly that the reader will have no breath left to brag about his or her brilliance. Besides, it's how the dilemma is resolved that matters here, and a happy outcome is left in doubt more than once. In fact, there is a suggestion that at least one of the villains is not going to receive the punishment he richly deserves.

In short, if you want a fast-paced, exciting story with a generous dollop of blood-and-bits, a young three-dimensional hero with a dark secret and a kick-ass female lead, then this is the book for you. Just remember: even those jolly red London buses might not be as safe as you'd always imagined . . .

Further reading suggestion: For another thrilling tale of a team of young people fighting the bad guys and based in an almost-now setting, plus a touch of gruesomeness, try TimeRiders: Day of the Predator by Alex Scarrow.

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