By Steve Voake
Published by Faber and Faber
Steve Voake's Fightback is a tick-box novel, written to a formula and achieving exactly what it sets out to do. The action-packed, pacy chase thriller is aimed at young - specifically male - teens who won't ask too many questions as they turn the pages. Highly implausible, and containing all the familiar elements of the genre, Fightback works on one level only, and is none the worse for that.
Our smart teen hero is Keir West, the sort of character who's designed to take on any adventures that come along. Keir has no family life as such, having been sent off to boarding school following his mother's death. While a bit of a loner, he is savvy enough not to be dragged under by his lack of family. A brilliant sportsman, it's on the karate mat he really comes to life.
On one of the few occasions when Keir does see his dad, tragedy strikes. The two of them are returning from a karate tournament, when another car rams into their vehicle, sending it onto the hard shoulder. Before Keir can react, men have emerged from the other car and one of them has shot his father dead. So what does any plucky, adrenaline-fired 14-year-old boy do in a situation like this? He goes on the run, determined to avenge his father's killing.
After a quick-fire opening, the pace of the novel slows as Keir looks for clues. Then, out of nowhere, a mysterious teenage girl pops up and takes Keir under her wing. She has been sent by Mr Jackson, a mega-rich businessman who runs his own private police force. By now, our teen hero has realised that his father was involved in something big that the family knew nothing about. Distressed but intrigued, Keir decides that all he can now do is go with the flow.
Jackson arranges for Keir to have Zen training from a Karate Kid-style tutor called Chiang. This is the slowest part of the novel because it's all so familiar. But then the action starts to flow thick and fast, as Keir is first trained to drive and shoot, and then he's let loose to track down the villains of the piece, something he does with bravery and a great deal of gusto.
There are lots of exciting set-pieces in Fightback that will delight young readers who are probably encountering an Alex Rider-type adventure for the first time. But when he does finally make his entrance, the central villain is a bit of a let-down. He is too ordinary to be memorable, which is a pity because Fightback needs to end with a bang, not a whimper.
Undemanding, and capable of being read in a single session, Voake's novel could well put new readers on the path to reading books that are a little less formulaic. But good luck to Keir in his next adventure - which hopefully will be a bit more original.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com