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Colyngbourne 28th Jun 2007 11:05

Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme (CONTAINS SPOILERS)
(I don't usually review a book for 11/12 yr olds on Palimpsest - unless we're counting Harry Potter, which is, like it or not, the exception, but this review is a follow-on from the Self-Published Books thread; normal service will hereafter be resumed.)

Imagine a place where the TV series Monarch of the Glen crosses with George of the Jungle and borrows a few DNA strands from Artemis Fowl, and you have something approximating Justin Thyme. Usually referencing a book like this suggests some unworthy illegitimacy – a bastard child with sticky-out ears – but honestly (and this is rare in my experience) this hybrid chimera is not a bad looking beast at all.

The book is designed as an elaborate puzzle and exploration of the laws of time-travel (relativity, quantum mechanics and Schrödinger's cat will make an appearance in future books). It is set in the seat of a Scottish laird and his family and staff. This is a house and a family with many peculiarities and secrets but they possess the security of this being a slightly unrealistic tale and prove relatively undamaged by the hair-raising events that occur. Justin, as the 13 yr old billionaire inventor, has a rather wonderful relationship and friendship with his father, which is unusual to see in children's lit these days; his mother, Henny, is less motherly – leaving the care of her infant son Albion to the nanny and to the gorilla Eliza who communicates via a computer speech synthesiser – but Henny is no less affectionate and loving for that.

Sometimes the plot is a bit obvious, (and the characters all a bit too quirky). Sometimes the writing falls down – there were many descriptions of the Professor’s ears turning a variety of colours, which didn’t feel like an amusing recurring theme, and similarly, Justin’s insides got a thorough simile-overhaul: his brain felt like a…his insides felt like they were… - often with clumsy, over-technical phrases (but never quite so poor as “fingers being dragged lightly across the metal casing of a computer hard drive”). There is much amusement at the many mispronunciations by Mrs Kof, the mannish murderous Czech weight-lifter who is now the Castle’s cook-in-residence, most of which is genuinely funny, but sometimes feels slightly awry. As mentioned above, there was a reference to Justin’s mother escaping from cannibals in Lesotho which felt grossly inappropriate in a book that is grounded in the generalities of the everyday: recycling boxes, mobile phones, e-mails.

I’m no puzzler – and couldn’t work out much of the clues scattered through the book: no-one is who they say they are and a criminal and unwilling accomplice are both at large and one of them undetected by the end of the story. I suspect my son will be better at working out the answer than I was.

A jolly good read with some laugh-out loud bits (and a cool ambigram on the front of the book).


Stewart 1st Jul 2007 18:24

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
Is there some sort of campaign to get this book noticed at the moment? Perhaps initiated by collectors of limited edition book runs looking to pocket some extra cash? Two of the other forums I visit have both had people join recently mentioning this book and giving the whole spiel about how it's the first of four, how the author is unknown, and so on and so forth. Then, there's the Amazon reviews giving it a nigh on unbelievable average of five stars over sixteen reviews. I find it all highly suspicious.

Colyngbourne 1st Jul 2007 19:28

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
There might be (and the Amazon reviews are OTT) but it's unconnected with my reviewing it. I mentioned it in a children's book group last week and several of the children there had heard of it, and a teacher, so it's not a total unknown.

John Self 1st Jul 2007 20:27

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
I wouldn't be surprised, Stewart, but as Col says above it does seem to be coincidentally a (quite) good book. Of course even if it's the greatest work of literature in the history of mankind, that wouldn't make a dishonest word-of-mouth campaign - if that's what it is - or an honest campaign based on (sigh) 'collectability,' any less contemptible.

Colyngbourne 1st Jul 2007 23:54

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
My eleven yr old finished reading it tonight and thought it a pretty good read. He spent a long time the other day on the website.

Edit: I just asked him what stars he would give and he said ****0 1/2 - he very much enjoys rattling good detective-type mysteries and he appreciated the sciencey bits as well (which are slotted in the book as pages from Justin's Journal as he tries to explain time-travel). I think his rating is probably on 'top readability' rather than literary quality, as that is usually the criterion he judges on.

Stewart 2nd Jul 2007 17:25

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
Hey, perhaps Panama is actually Christopher Priest, as per the nasty email the admin of this forum received.

gil 2nd Jul 2007 18:03

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
Pillock. We have to start to wonder if the "reviews" on the Book Group Online site are genuine and whether the guy who bought a £1000 1st ed off eBay is not, in fact, another pseudonym of the author paying eBay's commission as cheap publicity.

John Self 2nd Jul 2007 18:15

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
Well, as he was so worried about being mistaken for J.K. Rowling, I helpfully provided his real name, which the mods there have now deleted. Whose side are they on!

gil 3rd Jul 2007 9:43

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
Adshead, wasn't it? Quite an accomplished illustrator, and, by all accounts, an entertaining writer. He shouldn't have to resort to guerrilla marketing methods, unlike He Who Is Too Often Named.

John Self 3rd Jul 2007 10:26

Re: Panama Oxridge: Justin Thyme
Well exactly. And surely if part of the 'fun' of the book is in working out who really wrote it (and how self-aggrandizing is that for an author, exactly?), then he should be positively encouraging speculation, including speculation that it's the work of an established author. Adshead's policy of "I'm going to use my anonymity as a point of interest for the book, but if anyone suggests that it was written by someone else then I'm going to kick and scream" is aPauling.

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