Sure Fire by Jack Higgins

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Sure Fire by Jack Higgins

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A pacy, well-written thriller, superior to the Alex Rider books, Sure Fire will be appreciated by all action fans of 9 or 10 and over. It's passing entertainment though, and best kept for a library borrowing.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: October 2006
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 0007244096

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Richard and Jade have never met their father. They don't even know his name. When their mother is killed in a road accident, the sixteen year-old twins are sent to live with him. Richard Chance doesn't seem particularly happy to meet his long-lost children. He is wrapped up in his work, a mysterious business conducted from the study of his flat. The twins are forbidden even to enter the room. Following him to a business meeting in deserted scrapyard, Richard and Jade are witness to their father's abduction. From then on, their world becomes a much more dangerous place. It seems that John Chance is some kind of spy, and the twins are now implicated. They can't trust anyone, their lives are in danger, and they are determined to rescue a father who doesn't want them, because he's the only thing they have left.

There is a stage in the live of young readers when they are choosing light adult fiction as often as they are choosing books intended for them. I think the recent phenomenon of "crossover" and "young adult" genres are, in some ways, a business attempt to address this market. Book buyers are book buyers; we're all a demographic. I find it rather irritating but I also find it interesting. As a child, I desperately wanted to read grown up books, and made my way through Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Jean Plaidy and an innumerable amount of block and bonk busting airport fiction books. I also read a great deal of much more worthwhile teen fiction. As an adult, I rarely read popular light fiction. Chick lit turns me off, as do thrillers, fantasy and horror. If I'm in need of a lighter read, I turn to literary teen fiction.

This book by Jack Higgins did interest me. Clearly, there's a market for thrillers for teens. Alex Rider sells in the thousands. Why shouldn't Jack Higgins get in on the act? It's just that, to me, Jack Higgins already writes the kinds of books that would be read by children who are growing out of children's books but aren't quite ready for the Booker list. I certainly read a number of his offerings at that age. I thought they were great at the time, but wouldn't go near them now. I was rather intrigued to see how Sure Fire had turned out.

It turned out pretty well, actually. Higgins wrote the book with Justin Richards, an author of Doctor Who books and the Invisible Detective series. I haven't read any Richards, but I imagine his was the influence which pared down the Higgins style into something very suitable for the teen action fan. Sure Fire is very well-written. It has short, direct sentences. The vocabulary is well-chosen. It's a pacy, high-octane book, as you would expect, and the language never gets in the way of the action. Only the main characters are fleshed-out; the others are all cardboard cut out goodies and baddies. Motives are secondary to plot. In fact, I don't think I noticed a motive. Baddies are greedy and murderous and goodies are brave beyond words. It's a page-turner. It's everything anyone could want from a thriller, pared down for the younger reader. There is a lot of blood in Sure Fire, obviously, but it's all cartoon blood, and there's nothing so horrific I'd worry about my nine year old reading it.

I can't say that I enjoyed Sure Fire, but that was no fault of the book. It just isn't my kind of thing. I can't say that I would recommend buying it either, unless your child is utterly obsessed by all things action-based or unless you recycle your books via Ebay or Amazon Marketplace. I think you would be better borrowing Sure Fire from the library. It's exciting, pacy and surprisingly well-written, but it's passing entertainment and probably doesn't bear re-reading. If Higgins writes further stories about the Chance twins though, I'll bet your junior action fan will want to read them. Rich and Jade are certainly more interesting and more sympathetic characters than that insufferable little twerp, Alex Rider.

I am giving Sure Fire three and a half Bookbag stars, but my son, aged eleven, would like you to know he thinks it deserves four. He also thinks you should read his review of Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz.

Thanks to Harper Collins for sending the book.

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Richard Scarr said:

After reading some of the reviews for Surefire. I honestly cannot believe the novel I read, and the one these reviewers read are one and the same. I am a Higgins fan, and bought this novel by mistake. I was in a rush, and seeing his name on the cover, I bought it. I soon realized of course that it was for youngsters. But what struck me immediately was the amateurish style in which it was written. I could find no evidence that Higgins was involved in any way in the writing of this novel, other than to lend his name to it. It screams: I am a first novel by a beginner" The author falls into the classic trap of the amateur, by feeling compelled to explain even the smallest and obvious detail, in chapter and verse. He does not credit the reader with the common sense to work it out for himself. For instance, he writes: "John helped his friend to his feet and gave him back his stick, then handed him a headset- infra-red goggles attached to a set of straps that fitted exactly over their heads and held the goggles tightly in place" Did he really think he had to explain that the goggles had straps to hold them on the wearers head, in order to avoid the reader jumping to the conclusion they might be held in position with six inch nails? When: "Then they each pulled on a set of infra-red goggles" would have sufficed.

The book is riddled with these amateurism's and repetitions. When in the telling of the police blocking off a street. He felt compelled to explain in detail that they did so by parking a police car sideways across the road at either end. When simply stating: "The police sealed the street with a police car parked either end." The reader takes it for granted the cars will be parked in such a way as to prevent other vehicles leaving.

I can't believe this work would have got into print if it had not bore Jack Higgins name.

A Higgins fan