Saturday 31 October 2009

Review: Justin Thyme: The Tartan of Thyme by Panama Oxridge

First published in 2006 this book quickly developed something of a cult following, fuelled further by the fact that (incredibly) it is currently out-of-print. At the time, fans were heralding Panama Oxridge as the new JK Rowling (in fact, some even initially suggested that Panama Oxridge was actually JK Rowling using a pseudonym). Then it emerged that he was in fact "a well-known and successful author of picture-puzzle books". To my knowledge, Oxridge's real name has still not been published?? There is, however, a rather interesting interview with the author here.

So..... if the book is out-of-print why am I reviewing it now? Well, hopefully it will be back in print very soon. Originally it was self-published by the author with rumours of interest from some of the big name publishers, but nothing came of them. Over the last few years I have been a occasional visitor to the Justin Thyme website and just this morning discovered that it is currently undergoing work, with promises of a new website in November! Is it too optimisitc of me to start thinking that this means the sequel is soon to be published (we were originally promised a series of four books)? And if the sequel is finally written, will the first book in the series be back in print very soon? Watch this space!!!

So.... firstly the book synopsis:

Justin Thyme is a self-made billionaire living in a castle overlooking Loch Ness. The day he turns thirteen, he receives an anonymous gift: a fabulous watch with a puzzling message hidden on it. When he tells his father of his plans to build a time machine, the Laird of Thyme reveals tantalising fragments of past espionage and warns his son of a ruthless enemy keeping him under constant surveillance. At first, Justin fails to take Sir Willoughby seriously, but when a stranger arrives claiming to be his long-lost grandfather, Justin is wary – especially after his beloved Nanny insists the old man is an impostor.

Justin’s TV celebrity mother departs on a Congo expedition with her eccentric film crew and Eliza, a computer-literate gorilla. Whilst returning, Lady Henny is abducted, and clues prove that the kidnapper has inside information; someone in Thyme Castle must be a spy – or possibly Sir Willoughby’s old enemy in disguise. Everyone is under suspicion: Justin’s nervy tutor; their snooping housekeeper; the theatrical gardener; an ex-royal butler; and Mrs Kof, their freakishly strong cook.

Suddenly, the race against time is on. Can Justin convert his vintage motorbike into a time machine, rescue his mum and discover the identity of their resident spy in less than a week ... or will the dreaded Thyme Curse claim another life?

Firstly, the packagaing - the tartan cover of this book looks stunning, as do the various illustrations throughout. The title is written in the form of an ambigram, a word or image that can be 'read' not only in its form as presented, but also from another viewpoint, direction, or orientation (and used to great effect by Dan Brown in his Angels and Demons novel).

I was hooked from the first chapter of this amazing book. It really is one of those books you just can't put down! Set in a Scottish castle, the story revolves around a complex whodunit mystery that should appeal to adult fans of the genre, as well as the targeted younger readers.

On top of a highly original and well constructed story, Panama Oxridge has also created a wealth of eccentric and well-developed characters with such detail that they really come alive as you read, and keep you chuckling throughout. A computer literate gorilla? Who goes online to chat up boys? Panama Oxridge you are a genius! But despite these vivid descriptions of the characters, unlike the Tom Scatterhorn books this does not ever cause you to feel that the narrative is moving on too slowly. The pace is spot on throughout the whole book and you will be kept guessing until the very end.

A warning though - once you have finished this book you may just want to read it all over again right away. I spent a good part of the first half of the book flicking back through the pages to look for missed clues, etc. I soon realised that this could be a ridiculously time-consuming task so therefore made the decision that I would read it again in order to make more of an effort to spot the cryptic clues (illustrated and written) that appear to be littered throughout the book. I did manage to restrain myself from writing notes in the margins as I went along though!

Overall I cannot recommend this book enough - it really is THAT good. If it is ever published by someone who will give it a decent sized print-run then I can see it becoming a favourite of young readers across the country.

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