Wednesday 14 March 2012

Review: Special Ops - Dead Or Alive by Craig Simpson (Special Ops Book 4)

A rogue British agent has vanished with a suitcase full of cash and a head full of secrets. Have Britain's defences been exposed? Special Operations must act fast. Finn Gunnersen and fellow agents head for the dark and sinister streets of Nazi-occupied Paris. Their orders are simple: Bring the agent back - Dead or Alive.

Fact: Many boys love books about war. If my own experiences as a teacher are not evidence enough of this then I have a little more for you. First up, my good friend Liz from the My Favourite Books blog has made several school visits in recent years, talking to kids about books, and she told me that one of the boys' favourite subjects is war. Add to this the continuing popularity of Commando Comic. Following a recent visit to the National Army Museum, where I discovered an exhibition of art from the comic, I became intrigued as to how many people still read Commando. The information from the publisher's website shows that 34% of the readers of Commando Comic are under 25, and the comic has a readership of approximately 40,000, with 8 issues being published each month. Ergo, boys love war stories - and yet there are still only a small handful of books being published each year that fall into this genre, my favourite of which are the Special Ops books by Craig Simpson.

Back in 2010 I posted a review that covered all three of the Special Ops books that had been released up to that point. I discovered the series after the publication of the third book, Wolf Squadron, and had the luxury of being able to read the three almost back-to-back. I found them more enjoyable, and certainly more believable, than the likes of the CHERUB books as the stories are grounded in fact - young people did play a huge part in the resistance movements of the various occupied contries during WWII, and all Craig Simpson has done is take this a step further by having a trio of Norwegian teenagers drafted in to work for S.O.E., the very real intelligence organisation that was set up to fight back against the Nazis.

Now, after an 18 month wait, the fourth book in the series, Dead or Alive, is out and is yet another thrilling addition to the series. I would like to say that Dead or Alive is more of the same from Craig Simpson, but that sounds like I am being negative. Far from it - in this case, more of the same means it is just as brilliant has his previous three books in the series. It has all the ingredients that have made this such an exciting series to read - great characters putting their lives on the line for the greater good, tight plotting, great action scenes, realistic dialogue and as much tension as any best-selling adult thriller.

Importantly, in these books Craig Simpson never glorifies the role these young people play in the war. Yes, they find themselves having to carry guns, and occasionally having to kill others in order to survive, but they never seem wholly comfortable with these extreme actions, however necessary they were. This is possibly more apparent in Dead or Alive than in the previous ones, as this time they are sent over to France to locate a fellow agent oy may, or may not have turned traitor. Said agent has gone missing with a headful of secrets vital to the defense of England fortune in funds that were supposed to aid the Resistance. Finn, Loki and Freya are instructed to seek and if necessary destroy this agent, and this is something that does not sit well with them from the very start. Should they follow their orders to the letter? What if he turns out to be innocent and by shooting first and asking later they end up killing an innocent man? What are the consequences if they fail to carry out the orders that come from Churchill himself?

I hope that these books are selling well as I would love Craig Simpson to be able to continue writing about his trio of youg heroes. The events of Dead or Alive take place in November 1941, so there is plenty more wartime remaining for him to set his stories in. If you are/have a 10+ boy who loves action thrillers then these books come highly recommended. Not only will yuo/he be able to enjoy a fast-paced exciting story, but there is also a history lesson with it. At the end of each book the author includes a postscript, explaining which elements of the story are based on fact (in this case, an agent really did go missing with a suitvase full of bank notes).

My thanks go the the generous people at Corgi Books for sending me a copy of Dead or Alive to review. Please watch this space as I hope to feature a gust post by Craig Simpson sometime in the near future.

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