Thursday, January 10, 2008

Point Blanc, by Anthony Horowitz

"Point Blanc", by Anthony Horowitz, is the second in his series about Alex Rider, the teenaged spy. There is enough back story to put a new reader in the picture without info-dumping, but "Point Blanc" does contain a few spoilers for "Stormbreaker", the first book.

Alex Rider is a fourteen-year-old orphan, brought up by his uncle Ian. Alex believed Ian was a banker, but after his death he discovered he was a spy. Ian's runners put Alex in his uncle's place, and now use him for missions in which a teenager will be more useful than an adult.

In this story, Alex is sent to "Point Blanc", an isolated mountain finishing school for sons of the rich and powerful. All the pupils are the same age as Alex, and all have been sent to the school by parents who can neither control nor understand their children. Recently, the fathers of two of the pupils have died in mysterious circumstances. Alex is given a cover story and sent to the school to discover any connection between the deaths.

At the school only one boy, James, is friendly. The others, who eerily share the same mannerisms and unlikely dedication to study, pay little attention to James or to Alex. The staff, consisting of South African scientist Dr Grief, his assistant direction, Mrs Stellenbosch, and rather a lot of armed guards, is also disconcerting.

What Alex discovers, how he discovers it, and what he does about it leads the reader on a non-stop breathless ride. The action is mostly unbelievable to an adult, but Anthony Horowitz is an experienced writer who adds persuasive detail. The characters are strongly drawn, good, bad, grotesque and ambivilent. Some of the plot points and twists are obvious to an adult reader, but that mostly boils down to familiarity with the genre. Spy stories have certain givens, and Horowitz uses them with skill.

The first two "chapters" before the story-proper begins, are almost like short stories, but work well to set up the mystery and Alex's character.

I "read" the audio version while roaming the hills and river with my dogs, and enjoyed it very much.

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