Monday 3 October 2011

Review: CRYPT: The Gallows Curse by Andrew Hammond

Meet Jud Lester: Star agent with CRYPT, the Covert Response Youth Paranormal Team.

When a crime is committed and the police are at a loss, CRYPT is called in to figure out whether something paranormal is at work. Jud is their star agent.
Jud, unwillingly paired with new recruit Bex, has just landed his biggest case yet ... people have been disappearing in mysterious circumstances while others are viciously attacked - yet there are no suspects and a complete lack of hard evidence. The only thing that links each attack is the fact that survivors all claim that the culprits were 17th century highwaymen.

Can Jud and Bex work out what has caused the spirits of these dangerous men to return to the streets of London before they wreak more death and destruction?

Does your teen child love horror? Then get your hands on a copy of this book as soon as you can... they will love you for it! I was fortunate enough to be given an early proof copy of CRYPT: The Gallows Curse back in May when I went to the Headline blogger event, and I started reading it on my way home on the train. I do not recommend you try this as I came very close to missing my stop as I got so engrossed in it; in fact, after I had got off my train I sat on a bench on the platform just so I could finish the chapter I was on before I raced home to sit up into the night to finish it. And that's something else I wouldn't recommend, especially if you are easily unnerved, and this book might just scare the pants off you if you are alone in a dark, empty house.

The publisher blurb describes Andrew Hammond's debut as "A fantastic blend of teenage spies, horror and ghost-busting for fans of Cherub and Young Bond" and I have been trying to put it better myself but I have given up as it sums the story up perfectly. I remember going to see Ghostbusters back in 1984, and loving it so much that I went again a few days later. There are continuing rumours that the original cast may get back together to make a new Ghostbusters film, but I personally feel that they shouldn't bother as CRYPT is the only ghostbusting story we need for this (now not so) new millennium. OK, so it doesn't have the comedy of the 80s movie, but it is a hell of a lot more scary, and far more in keeping with the kind of horror that young people love these days.

They say that writers for children need to grab the attention of their audience within the first few pages or they may as well give up; Andrew Hammond certainly manages this is this first book in his CRYPT series. The first few pages give us a very brief prologue, giving us a quick briefing as to what CRYPT is and how it came into being, as well as some pretty nasty details about how main character Jud Lester was found guilty of killing his mother, despite his claims that "the ghosts did it". This was more than enough to get me interested, but then we are straight into the first chapter which contains a thoroughly nasty supernatural attack on a Central Line tube train during rush hour. You may never want to travel on the Tube again after reading this - it is nightmare inducing writing, and we aren't even ten pages into the story!

CRYPT: The Gallows curse consists of 50 chapters over 330+ pages, so you don't need me to tell you that the chapters are short, and with the fast paced action scenes you can't help but want to keep on turning the pages. This is perfect for teen readers, especially those of the reluctant reader variety, but for me it was awful as I was pretty tired on the night I read this book, but I kept on saying to myself "Just one more chapter and then turn the light out". Curse you Hammond! It may have been a Friday night but I had a lot to do the next morning and I was shattered! The plot is fast-paced with some cracking action set-pieces, including a number of battles with some of the nastiest ghosts you are likely to find in modern YA literature and a motorbike chase scene that may have your heart trying to pound its way through your ribcage. And then if you still have a breath left in your lungs you have to face the totally brilliant, cardiac arrest-inducing climax! In fact, the more I think about this book as I write this review, the more I feel that this would make a great movie, although to do the horror scenes justice the certificate may have to be higher than the age of the main target audience of the book.

I would be lying if I said the book was perfect though. The horror scenes are all brilliantly written, and Andrew Hammond really knows how to scare his audience. However, these scenes sometimes tend to overshadow some of the other quieter moments in the story, those all important scenes between perils that allow us to take a breath and see the characters develop further as they interact with each other. For me, some of these quieter scenes needed to be more punchy, and a few times I felt there was a little too much telling going on and not enough showing. This was particularly the case whenever there was mention of Jud's past, and this seemed to happen a little more than was necessary. As this is the first in a series we probably did not need to know everything that is revealed about Jud's past in this first outing, although with  the backstory now established I would guess that the sequel, CRYPT: Traitor's Revenge, will be better as far as this is concerned.

CRYPT: The Gallows Curse really is Ghostbusters for the Alex Rider generation and is the perfect springboard for teens who are wondering whether to take the plunge into the vast pool of adult horror fiction. I for one can't wait for the sequel, especially as the blurb suggests that it is set in York as well as in London. With so many great historical cities in the UK, each with a multitude of their own ghost stories, this is a series that could run and run, and based on this first instalment I would like to sign up for the duration please.