By Anthony Horowitz
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 978 1406310504
Since his first appearance in Stormbreaker in 2000, the teenage spy Alex Rider has become one of the most popular heroes of young adult fiction. Author Anthony Horowitz has brilliantly managed to keep up the thrills across nine breathtaking Alex Rider novels. Many readers have compared them to the classic James Bond adult spy thrillers.
In Russian Roulette, the 10th adventure, Horowitz has made a very clever move, giving readers something totally unexpected: Alex himself does not appear until the end.
Instead the focus is on Yassen Gregorovich, the contract killer who has been stalking Alex through the past adventures. This is an impressive move, and the resulting novel is outstanding.
Could you sympathise with a paid killer whose job is murder? Horowitz takes readers places they'd never expect to go. At the start of Russian Roulette, Gregorovitch gets the order: "Kill Alex Rider". But then the story takes off in a new and fascinating direction.
As he prepares to track down the teen spy, the killer opens his personal diary and starts to read his own life-story.
We meet the young "Yasha" in the isolated village in Russia where he lives with his parents. Yasha is an ordinary boy living his life as best he can. But suddenly his life is destroyed when he discovers secrets about his parents and a deadly attack on his home village. Yasha manages to escape, but where can he go? How can he survive after the tragedy he has just witnessed?
Horowitz tells the story of how this ordinary boy becomes a contract killer. Yasha faces threat and disaster, betrayal and starvation as he tries to find a new life. A sort of salvation comes when he is taken in by a gang of criminals.
The story that follows is packed with twists, turns and suspense. Some people may question the morality of asking readers to sympathise with a character who becomes a deadly assassin, but Yasha's story is handled with great sensitivity by the author.
If this is the first time you have read an Alex Rider book, it won't be your last. The latest novel is dark, but it is an excellent introduction to a series that has sold over 13 million copies in English and has been translated into 28 languages.
Master storyteller Horowitz is on top form with an exciting portrait of how an ordinary schoolboy is turned into a deadly hired assassin.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com