Although I haven’t read any of the adult equivalents, this series is obviously intended to be a cut-down version of the “true-life” Special Air Service operations genre of action thriller. It is full of military-sounding abbreviations and codewords, carefully explained in a glossary, and does not stint when it comes to violence. Aside from being a reasonable page-turner it offers little of any worth.
Danny’s perseverance in finding, following, helping and ultimately rescuing his grandfather (Fergus) whom he initially believes to be a traitor is praiseworthy, but his motivation is difficult to understand. Elena’s solid support of Danny is more straightforward. She does, however, electronically break-and-enter into several websites and a mobile phone tracking site to help him. She hesitates a little first, but goes ahead in any case.
This is the most worrying aspect of the books: the extent to which the reader is confronted with the way of life of a soldier in the field, and especially SAS and secret service operatives. Objectively, the morality of military killing is delicate, relying in time of war on a generalisation of the right to self-defence. But what about those agents we see operating in peacetime and on no more than the say-so of their superiors? I’m probably not competent to judge whether or not Fergus is right to say, “Kill them before they kill you.” But if I’m not, I doubt if any of the intended audience is either. In addition, certain killings are condoned not for any clear reason of national self-defence but because the people concerned are becoming inconvenient.
Danny has no family ties to speak of. The foster parents he lives with are upright and caring people, but the reader knows he can leave them behind without worrying too much. Elena’s father left his wife and daughter to pursue money-making opportunities in Nigeria. When he returns, he’s simply after more money in a different way. Fergus, who’s as close as we can get to a responsible adult in this series, is as ruthless as the rest when push comes to shove. Of any book for youngsters you have to ask the question: what will the young reader have gained after finishing it? After reading this series, I fear he’ll have gained a sound grasp of shallow military acronyms and speech and a hazy idea that the security services are right to do anything which furthers their needs, including killing. And not too much else.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer in London. He is also the editor of the Good-to-Read website.