Thursday 8 December 2011

Review: Thyme Running Out by Panama Oxridge

As the threat of the Thyme Curse closes in on Justin's family, his life is once again thrown into complete turmoil. Will he finally unmask Agent X and his spy? Has Evelyn Garnet stolen his wristwatch? What's making Eliza the gorilla act so aggressively? Why is Sir Willoughby planning a secret trip in the time machine? And where has Justin's sister, Robyn, mysteriously vanished to? Only Nanny Verity knows the truth - but can she be found before it's too late?

One of the first books I reviewed on The Book Zone back in October 2009 was Justin Thyme: The Tartan of Thyme by Panama Oxridge. At that point the book was out of print, and difficult to get your hands as it had been self-published by the author a few years earlier. Why did I review it? For two reasons: most importantly, because I loved it. Secondly, because I had spotted that its website had been taken offline with a promise of revamp, and I hoped that this could mean a sequel was due. In actual fact, new-to-the-scene publisher Inside Pocket had signed a deal with the author to publish that first book, which was released in October 2010. Now, five years on from the original release of Justin Thyme: The Tartan of Thyme, the sequel has been published.

Five years is a long time to wait for a sequel in the frantic world of modern children's publishing where most authors are expected to turn out at least one book a year, possibly even more. For example, when Darren Shan's new Zom-B series hits the book shops in 2012 the intention is to release one book every three months. Some of this is a financial thing - hook a child with a book, especially if it is written by a big name author, and they will come back for more. Make the time between releases too long and that child will have grown up another year or two and have moved on to the next big name author, the original story long forgotten. Panama Oxridge is not a big name author (although I believe he deserves to be), and so I hope that momentum can now be built and the two remaining books in the series will be released within a shorter period, giving these books the attention that they surely merit.

As you can probably tell already, my five year wait to read the sequel to The Tartan of Thyme was worth it. Admittedly it did take me a short while to get back into the story - I have read the original book several times, but time constraints these days mean that I was not able to refresh my memory prior to reading Thyme Running Out. By the end of the third chapter though, the characters of the family Thyme were like old friends, and as I progressed through the story there were enough references to the first book to have me feeling like I had only read it a couple of weeks ago.

Thyme Running Out picks up the story at a point soon after the close of its predecessor. The family are on a Mauritian island, ostensibly so that Lady Henny Thyme can make another of her world famous wildlife shows and establish a wildlife sanctuary. However, there is an ulterior motive to the trip: Justin is using his time machine to travel back in time to recover dodo egges with a view to bringing the species out of extinction and into the modern world. Not all is rosy though - friction is building between the increasingly rebellious Robyn Thyme and her mother, and Eliza, the tame, hyper-intelligent gorilla is becoming increasingly moody. Nanny Verity Kiss is still missing, presumed in hiding as she is still suspected of complicity in the kidnapping of Lady Henny.

Leaving Henny behind, the family return to Thyme Castle, and the mysteries that were set up in the first book begin to unfold again. Who is Agent X? Where is Nanny Verity Kiss? Is there a traitor living within Thyme Castle itself? So begins another richly layered mystery story laced with time travel adventure and humour, and yet again the stand out element of the story is its array of eccentric characters. Every one of them has a part to play in this story, even the minor ones who might only appear for a paragraph here and there in the story, and rarely is anyone exactly how they first appear.

Panama Oxridge never patronises his audience, nor does he relax his own obviously high standards of language and grammar in order to make the story an easier read. The vocabulary he uses throughout the book is occasionally complicated and the book is all the better for this. As Panama explained in an interview he did for The Book Zone last year: "Using interesting words is important to me.... Teachers often encourage their pupils to choose books that expand their vocabulary, but few young readers want to wade through a huge dictionary every time they happen upon an unfamiliar word. Therefore “Justin Thyme” briefly defines more than 450 of its most challenging words at the back of the book. This ensures no young reader need ever feel out of his or her depth." Thyme Running Out contains a similar mini-dictionary in the appendix, containing a few words that even this reader had to look up.

One of the unique points of this book are the clues that Panama hides throughout the story. If you have a 9+ mystery loving son (or daughter) who is a confident reader but has read all the books by the big name authors and is looking for something fresh and different then I cannot recommend this series highly enough - my godson will be receiving a copy for Christmas this year. Both books are available in beautiful hardcover editions, with the first now also available in a paperback edition. All editions include Panama's own illustrations littered throughout the book, some of them also acting as clues to the denouement.

My thanks go to Inside Pocket for generously providing me with a copy of Thyme Running Out, and also to Panama who very kindly sent me a copy of the paperback edition of Justin Thyme as my original review was quoted on the back cover.

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