Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn

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Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Joe's mother has just been killed in a hit-and-run accident and the only thing which makes life bearable now is his determination to solve the mystery. What was she doing in a stranger's car the night she died, and what did her final words mean?
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: June 2013
Publisher: Chicken House
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781908435682

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Sam Hepburn's book begins, intriguingly, by echoing several well-known tales. There is the orphan foisted on an unwilling aunt and uncle, for example, and then the boy who is forced by a frightening, filthy old convict into bringing him food — not to mention a whole slew of stories about young people who find themselves in dangerous situations because they trespass in private property while attempting to retrieve their less-than-obedient pets. But the plot soon gathers a momentum all its own and all the themes hinted at in the opening pages suddenly merge into a new story which is both exciting and scary.

Joe is trying to escape the misery of listening to his aunt, who hasn't stopped criticising him since he arrived after his mother's funeral, by taking his dog Oz for a walk. Together they discover a dilapidated mansion of glass and wood, and when he makes enquiries Joe discovers it was the scene of a terrible murder many years before. Before he knows it Joe is involved with all manner of shady characters including Ukrainian gangsters, stolen jewels and the KGB. His life over the next few days moves between the genteel but cash-strapped home of his aunt, the down-at-heel council flats of life before his mother's death and even the stately colleges of Cambridge, before he finds himself running for his life and that of his companions across a goods yard full of rusty cars and iron freight containers somewhere in Essex. The pace of the story, particularly in the second half of the book, is breath-taking, and the author does not shy away from violence, cruelty and heart-stopping terror as shadowy villains who will stop at nothing pursue him and try to scare him into revealing everything he has discovered about his mother's murder.

It is the mix of characters and backgrounds which really makes this book stand out. That Joe should prefer the seedy, noisy housing estate with its stained concrete walkways and overflowing wheelie bins that was his home before his mother's death to Saxted village is hardly surprising. He has friends there and can be sure of a casual but genuine welcome, no questions asked. But he is also helped, in the course of his investigations, by a college professor who is grieving the loss of a son, a former model and a girl who is half-prisoner, half-slave. Without their help he could never hope to make sense of the bewildering array of facts he amasses, nor indeed survive more than a few hours. All these people are thoroughly three-dimensional, with their own fears and concerns, and there is a satisfying, if rather too neat, ending where they all meet up.

Readers who enjoy the exploits of characters like Alex Rider and the young James Bond, but find it hard to identify with their extraordinary talents and ability to endure, will enjoy this story of an everyday boy who finds himself fighting to survive in extreme and dangerous situations. It is gripping, exhilarating and even, at times, lightly humorous, and is well worth looking out for in shops or on the library shelf.

Sam Hepburn also writes as Sam Osman. Quicksilver and Serpent's Gold are adventures which feature prophecies, ley lines and other ancient beliefs which have resurfaced in today's world.

Buy Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn at

Buy Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Chasing the Dark by Sam Hepburn at


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