The Fourth Horseman by Kate Thompson

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The Fourth Horseman by Kate Thompson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A deceptively clever book with wonderfully controlled writing, credible characters and a great deal to think about - science, religion, politics, growing up. A perfect read for the intelligent and thoughtful child.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: June 2006
Publisher: Bodley Head Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0370328904

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The Fourth Horseman opens with the arrest of Laurie McAllister, her brother Alex and her friend Javed. Her father, a research scientist, is being carted off to hospital with a head injury, the lab is on fire and its squirrels have been released. The police, naturally, are taking a dim view of proceedings. You might think that a simple story of earnest teenagers fighting the good fight against vivisection will ensue, but you will be wrong. This is a considerably more complicated book and we zip straight back to how it all began.

The previous year, Laurie's father had lost his research position at the university where he worked. There was plenty of teaching, but teaching wasn't enough for him. He wanted to be at the cutting edge of research. Laurie's mother is off working as the physiotherapist for the England cricket team - the family's love of cricket is a vital part of The Fourth Horseman - and so her father had been moping around the house most dreadfully. So when Mr Davenport, a mysterious and rather shadowy government agent, offers him a lucrative but top secret job researching viruses, he jumps at the chance. As soon as he does, things start to change. And not for the better. Mr McAllister grows distant and strange. His ethics take second place to his academic ambition. World events take a turn for the worse. There is trouble in Shasakstan (a thinly disguised Pakistan) and Laurie's mother is about to accompany the England cricket team there on a tour.

So when Laurie sees the horsemen - first one, then a second, then a third, and then, the inevitable fourth - it is clear that they bring a terrifying portent...

I really enjoyed The Fourth Horseman. In almost every way it is a realistic book. It's about vital political issues, about different cultures, about the ethics of scientific research and about the stresses and strains in modern family life. The horsemen of the apocalypse are its only element of fantasy, although some may feel the conspiracy theories stretch credibility. Frankly though, I very much doubt they do, and even if they do, it's a fantastic topic for further discussion. Would we? Could we? Have we? I like to think though, that horsemen aren't fantastical at all - they are a metaphor for consience. Ultimately, the young people in Thompson's book have the strongest consciences - Laurie, Alex and Javed can see far more clearly than Mr McAllister, who is a slave to personal ambition and than the shadowy Mr Davenport who just wants power. In this sense, it's an inspirational book. My son was invigorated by the thought that future of the world could possibly depend more upon him that it does upon those currently in charge.

It's beautifully written in crisp, clear, elegant prose approachable by any confident reader. Younger children may possibly miss some of the subtleties of the social and political points, but will thrive on the tension Thompson creates. Older children won't feel patronised and will be given a fantastic opportunity to test their own nascent thoughts about science, fundamentalism and the many ways in which global issues can - and do - affect them directly. The pace is controlled and Thompson isn't afraid to give her readers thinking time. For we Murphys, The Fourth Horseman made a refreshing change from the high octane feel of so many of the other childrens books currently on the bookshop shelves. I found it unputdownable.

Plus, it has cricket. Lots of cricket. What more could you want?

My thanks to the nice people at Random House for sending the book.

Children who like to ponder the big issues might also enjoy Being by Kevin Brooks or Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful.

Booklists.jpg The Fourth Horseman by Kate Thompson is in the Top Ten Books To Drag The Kids Away From Computer Games For Ten Minutes At Least.

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Buy The Fourth Horseman by Kate Thompson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Fourth Horseman by Kate Thompson at


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