The Good People

Author: Steve Cockayne
RRP: 8.99
ISBN 1 904233 92 9
Available 06 July 2006

It would not be unfair to say that Steve Cockayne is a superlative writer. The book takes the reader on a journey from a genteel upper middle-class world of tea and Tiffin to the depths of absolute madness. Or does it? It's difficult to discuss the book without giving too much of the plot away, so you can just skip to the 'buy this book' bit at the end if you don't want it spoilt...

At the start of the book you're thinking here is a bog standard Alice in Wonderland meets The Famous Five rip-off. Robert and Kenny are two brothers living in Hedley House, at the start of the Second World War. Through the gate in their garden they are able to enter the land of Aboria which is populated by the Aborians and the Barbarians who are separated by a lake. The land also is host to Tommy Pelling, a wood cutter who appears to be immortal, and Davy Hearn, who is in league with the Barbarians. The boys defend the borders of Aboria and wonder about the Good People who have lived beneath the hill even before the Romans came.

The boys' lives are changed forever with the loss of their parents in an accident and the arrival of two refugee girls, Janny Grogan and Nadia. With the boys on the cusp of manhood, the girls form the basis of the boys' first sexual awakenings. At first, things continue in a similar vein as the boys introduce the girls to Aboria, but as the boys grow older things start to unravel.

Here is where the strength of Cockayne's writing really comes to the fore as the reality of Aboria comes into question. Kenny holds on to the reality of the land even to his death, whilst others around him start to question whether it is just a child's game which they have to put behind them as they grow older. Kenny's defence of the land leads to tragedy and death.

I kept finding myself thinking Kenny's as mad as a hatter, but just when you think you have a handle on the book Cockayne throws in a line which makes you question whether Aboria really exists. It a bit like Lost, in that, you just get comfortable with what you think you know about the state of Kenny's mind when you're given another piece of information or the reaction of another character which brings all you thought you knew into doubt. Even when it is certain that Kenny has suffered some sort of psychotic break, Cockayne never lets you get away so easily.

The book is written in the first person, being a fictitious narrative that Kenny, now an old man, is writing to his great-nephew Jamie, partly as an explanation of Aboria, but also because he intends to leave The Great Book of Arboria to the child. The book is an ageless account which is added to by each generation of children.

I found the book riveting in its originality, especially as the author didn't take the easy way out in the end and provide simple answers to the events in the book. He has a good ear for the voices of his characters and each stood out as separate individuals.

The thing I didn't get was that on the back of the book it says that it is intended for the over twelve's. Whilst I would agree that, due to some of the scenes in the book, no one younger than this should read this, I think that it give the wrong impression of the story. I certainly would have no problems in recommending this book to an adult audience.

So, for all those that skipped to this part, go and buy this release. It's defiantly the most original and gripping book for adolescents I have read this year.

Charles Packer

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