Ten Days to Zero (Ben Maddox) by Bernard Ashley

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Ten Days to Zero (Ben Maddox) by Bernard Ashley

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An intriguingly styled teen thriller that just about lifts itself above slightly bland political topics and provides a novel approach to the genre. Definitely worth a look just for the way the plot strands are woven out of all sorts of elements.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Orchard Books
ISBN: 978-1846169571

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A posh London girls' school is to be privileged by the presence of Princess Anne for the opening of their new drama wing; however one of the girls involved in the entertainment is getting rather annoyed at the thought of having to be all curtseying sweetness and light to the royal visitor.

Elsewhere a TV journalist, trying to get a handle on a national diplomatic story involving a political dissident from a southern American banana republic being sent back home for spurious reasons, dies suddenly, and needs replacing. The young novice stepping into his shoes, and the middle of the story, which of course goes further than first sight reveals, is Ben Maddox. But while he takes some time to find his feet in his new career, and seeks contact with the Home Secretary involved, other people are finding the Royal visit to the school a certain incentive to have a brazen kidnapping plot played out.

Just what will Maddox find out – if he survives the cut and thrust of his media debut? What will become of the kidnap, and what its aim? And above and beyond all of the more personal elements to the thriller, is there a right or a wrong side to be found in the global issues secreted behind everything?

There is a lot of grist to the thriller in these pages, but in conclusion the book does prove itself to be very much a teen read. The language would give it a 12A certificate, and the plotting is not quite sustained to the end. Also, I think the book does not help itself much in choice of hero and content. Never would Bernard Ashley have had an audience more interested in being on TV, but as a talentless celebrity rather than a TV newsfinder. I do find myself wondering if a typical teenage girl would find much of interest in a 24-year old man starting up in a global news network, floundering around with his first contacts with the political big-wigs in the story, and struggling to prove himself with the personal politics his new boss and his girlfriend engage him with.

Beyond that there is the subtle way his colleagues – at first competitors in the race for a great sellable story – become collaborators and possibly friends, in a softly unspoken way. The writing in the book, on the whole, is very nice, especially given the freshly novel way the whole thriller is presented.

So much of the material for the book is coming from 'found sources' - official police forms, cassette tape transcriptions, TV reviews, and many more. The diverse ways and means of presentation is well sustained, and very realistic and authoritative (only one annotated phone call struck me as not lifelike), and certainly adds to the fun of the actual reading experience. There is so much of it going on one hits page 20 in this new edition of a three-year old book with only about 4 sides of regular, narrative fiction writing.

The actual physical book hindered me a little – being told of two other Ben Maddox books in the series before hitting page one of this I was befuddled to think this is at a midpoint in some series, but it is in fact the first, and as such a good place to begin, with the others getting a similar reprint this year. I would certainly not be disappointed to read them – but I remain a little unsure this isn't a rare teen book that I got more from than the target audience might. The plot swings from the hostage's stygian environment, where empathy must be at its heights, to Number 10 press briefings, and confidential Parliamentary reports, where it probably isn't, but on the whole is lively enough.

I would hope I am wrong, and there is an audience in the teen market for mature, political thrillers with meaty subjects. I don't want people to think the format is a gimmick, but it certainly is a successful selling point to enliven the book and make it more than a little eye-catching. On the whole, whatever the intended reader may think, this one thinks it worth a firm four Bookbag stars, and gives it a slightly guarded recommendation.

We should thank Orchard Books for sending us a copy to review.

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Buy Ten Days to Zero (Ben Maddox) by Bernard Ashley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Ten Days to Zero (Ben Maddox) by Bernard Ashley at Amazon.com.


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