Monday, June 15
by Anthony Horowitz
Puffin Books 1994
Really? 1994? Apparently so, though this obvious reprinting is going to benefit from the Alex Rider series in terms of getting marketing and name recognition, there is a side of Horowitz I hadn't expected and rather liked – his inner Roald Dahl.
Joe Warden and his family are on the run. Desperately they rush to the airport and take the first flight they can find that takes them as far away from their comfy British home. What sort of evil could they possibly be escaping? Wizards with designs to take over the world? Genetic mutations that threaten to devour their DNA? Mad scientists? Ghostly apparitions?
Sort of. The unspeakable evil from which they are escaping is Joe's Granny.
From this opening we flash back to the moment when Joe first begins to suspect that his dottering old granny might not exactly be as she appears. She forgets Joe's name, gives him inappropriate gifts, and seems to be losing her marbles. But when Joe's parents take a vacation and leave Joe in Granny's care it becomes clear that it has all been an act, that Granny has been laying the groundwork to extend her life and that of fellow grannies by extracting vital electrolytes... from Joe's cellular structure!
Worse, even when a violent explosion fails to fell Granny she informs that death isn't the worst thing that could happen to her: she promises to come back and haunt Joe for the rest of his days when she dies.
Desperation forces Joe to expose Granny to his parents who come to realize that Granny is, indeed, evil, and thus their frantic escape from their home in the hopes of outwitting Granny and her eventual ghost.
Horowitz runs the story at an appropriately breakneck pace, ratcheting the tension and the horror of Granny at every turn. He has tapped into Dahl's well to extract a world full of uncaring and untrustworthy adults out destroy children one way or another. It's as darkly delicious as it is funny, and exactly the sort of book a middle grade boy would devour.
I understand the appeal of the Alex Rider series for older readers, and his Diamond Brothers mystery series, but I wish he'd write more like this.