Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale

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Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Super old-fashioned adventure story set in 1929, featuring murder, mayhem, scam adverts and medical malpractice. Thank heavens for the dollop of courage and tenacity. A truly fun read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: April 2010
Publisher: David Fickling
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0385616422

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Ah, you just have to love that cover, don't you? All dolled up to show a mop-headed hero starring in a newspaper article surrounded by some dodgy-looking classified ads promising the moon on a stick. Such ads have an important part to play in Eleanor Updale's latest novel.

It's set in 1929 but it spends a goodly amount of time looking back to the Great War - most of the main characters have been affected by it one way or another. Despite this, it's a book about looking forwards: to rebuilding new lives from shattered ones, to medical advances that will benefit all, and to the most important forwards of all - growing up. Johnny Swanson's father was killed in the war before Johnny was born. Life's hard for him and his mother Winnie as money is scarce without a man's wage coming in.

Winnie works hard at several jobs and Johnny does his bit by doing a paper round for Hutch at the local shop, but when Mr Bennett announces a rent increase, things don't look good. Fresh from his own embarrassment at the hands of the author of the Secret of Instant Height advertisement he read in the paper, Johnny embarks upon his own scam advert career in an effort to improve the household finances. Of course, he can't tell anybody this is what he's about and so one lie to cover it up adds to another, and another, and another. And then Dr Langford, a proponent of the newfangled BCG vaccination for tuberculosis, is murdered. Before he knows it, Johnny's attempt to help his mother has put her very life in danger...

Oh, I did enjoy Johnny Swanson - it's serious and funny. Johnny's adverts are hilarious - How to get into films: Go to the cinema, Free yourself from nosy neighbours: Move house - and the stack of gullible respondents seems to grow bigger and bigger, the more outlandish his suggestions become. But it's also quite tense at times, as Johnny goes detective, desperately trying to save his mother from a murder conviction and the hangman's noose. And it has serious points to make about quackery and medical malpractice, about the evils of gossip and the mob mentality, and about being honest and taking responsibility for the things that you've done.

Amidst all this, Updale also manages to paint a vivid and interesting picture of life between the two World Wars. What more could you want?!

My thanks to the nice people at David Fickling for sending the book.

I think they might also enjoy the The 39 Clues series.

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