Pirates by Geoffrey Malone

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Pirates by Geoffrey Malone

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A boy encounters modern-day pirates when on his father's freight ship. An exotically-set, but blandly straightforward thriller ensues, which serves as light reading for the 10-14 age set.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: May 2008
Publisher: Hodder Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0340893593

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Tom is having a great time, joining his father on the deck of the ship Mr Lee is captaining – a cargo of electrical goods below them, they travel through the Malacca Straits en route to the UK, with Tom special guest for just a short stretch of the journey. Also quite liking the idea of a short stretch on board the boat is Lin Pao, a pirate, after the ship itself and all the goods.

Before long, the brigands have captured the craft, kept her skipper's son as working hostage and forced it to be returned to China for selling on. Were a handily-placed policeman friend of the family to stumble on the case he would find a much wider web, however, of Triad gangsters, and shady go-betweens; Lin Pao himself is only following orders.

Thus is rather a pleasant entry in the thrillerish adventure story genre set up, however, there is a little bit of disappointment here.

When I scour the junior sections of the local library I'm looking for the bizarre, the quirky, the esoteric – books which I might pick up and think 'oh, if only we had books like that when I was the right age'. And this is exactly the sort of book that might have been written over a generation ago when I was the right age for it. The way Tom is given carte blanche to roam the cargo ship's decks and engine room, and add to his knowledge of seagoing, is evidence that the ghost of Arthur Ransome has not left the world.

There is something even older – colonial, even, in the way Captain Lee is quaintly given the fleet's oldest boat to skipper, while his son and wife are generally left landlocked; yet also something very modern about the way there is no attempt to entertain any excuse for them being in that part of the world while the father's global trade is carried out.

Thus it becomes a little harder for the modern reader to empathise with Tom. And while his slave-like life in the pirates' hideout is clearly exotic enough and carried through with more than ample descriptive writing, there is the old stereotype there of the nasty cook – all grease, snide smirk and butcher's knife. We are thrust backwards again with the teenage girl found there called Nancy – we can only recall other Nancys, especially given this girl's character.

And while on the subject of names, don't go to Asia and call your English boy hero Tom Lee – he sounds like the perfect Hong Kong child and doesn't help differentiate Anglo-Saxon from aboriginal. (And again, the figure of $20million for the value of the contraband seems too pat, too low and again too quaintly old.)

The boat-life is nicely done, and will be pleasant for those who haven’t followed the Ransome maxim 'we must all go down to the sea in ships'. However more could have been done to describe the craft and their relative sizes – the smugglers' launch seemed to have a deck, a cabin beneath, yet still be tiddly enough for people to lean over the side to wash their hands in the sea.

I don't want to sound completely negative about this book – the thriller element is great, as far as it goes. The communications between the baddies are of note, whether shady subterfuge or shouted orders with menaces. The way the story sweeps quickly through all elements – father, son, gangsters, police – is done very competently, and goes some way to give the global-seeming sweep to the story. However, the whole thing has what is again a little old-fashioned feel in the way it is so straightforward. Alex Rider would never be given such a simple plot.

Again, there is very little to really come down on as regards a flaw in the writing, but the book does have a big fault for me – the great expanse of books that go so much further than this, however exotic and realised the setting is here. You might liken it to a modern, fancy yacht going through the Malacca Strait itself – there might well be a perfection about its lines, but when a super-tanker comes along by golly it had better get out of the way of the bigger shifter.

We would like to thank Hodder Children's Books for sending us a review copy. We would have liked to enjoy this book more, but unfortunately, see it struggling to provide the certain something that novels need to be a big hit.

You might like to have a look at Dead Boys' Club by Geoffrey Malone.

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Buy Pirates by Geoffrey Malone at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pirates by Geoffrey Malone at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Pirates by Geoffrey Malone at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Pirates by Geoffrey Malone at Amazon.com.


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