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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Review: Knock Down (Street Duty Case One) by Chris Ould

Brilliant start to a new police procedural series for the YA market

As a lover of crime fiction, and an enthusiastic YA reader, I was really pleased to hear about this exciting new series. Reading it made me even happier, as it was everything I would have wished for in such a combination.

Chris Ould has written for The Bill amongst other things, and the knowledge he gained from this - of how the police operate and of what makes a successful crime narrative - is put to great use in this brilliant read. For this YA series, he has invented the rank of Trainee Police Officer (TPO) to allow the creation of 16 to 18 year old characters who can investigate crime. Although they are trainees and therefore often supervised, Holly Blades in this novel shows enough promise that the training officers allow her some slack and she is able to take something of a leading role, particularly in the crimes which focus on teens. I know that some reviewers are commenting on the realism of this, but I fail to see how it's any less realistic than the classic 'child sleuth' trope or the 'meddling little old lady who solves crimes on a regular basis' for that matter!

Holly Blades and Sam Marsden are the TPOs, although Holly has more of the lead in this instalment. Both show potential as police officers, and both are 'up against it' to some extent as the public and other officers don't always take them seriously. This is a classic trope in crime fiction (often it's the woman detective struggling to be accepted, or the older detective whose methods are viewed as outdated), allowing the characters to show their human sides and making it easier to sympathise with them. It certainly works in Street Duty as we easily root for Holly and Sam and admire their resourcefulness.

The focus is very much on the crimes and the plot centres on a few different criminal acts, some of which turn out to be connected. It feels (to me, with no such experience!) like a realistic representation of a short period in policing, with different events being reported in and the officers' attention being pulled in different directions. The narrative is in the third person and past tense, with the focus shifting around different settings and different characters and different fonts used to differentiate the police-focused sections (all headed with location date and time in a very precise way) from the sections concentrating on criminals, victims and suspects. Overall it feels quite visual, as though we are cutting from scene to scene in a TV drama or film. It's clear that as well as the TPOs and other police officers, some other characters and settings are going to be revisited in future cases, and I am looking forward to getting to know the area better.

Given the popularity of crime drama and fiction, this is bound to be a highly successful series, and (speaking as a teacher) I also appreciate its positive presentation of (some) teens in relation to crime. Many teens are responsible, resourceful and reliable individuals, and it is a shame that their presentation as such is relatively unusual. I would strongly recommend this series to readers of around 15 and up (it carries warnings about explicit content and strong language).


From the Back Cover:

Victim: Teenage female, 14 years old. Unconcious. Head Injury. Laceration to arm. Struck by lorry.

Why was Ashleigh Jarvis running so fast that she didn't see the lorry? Why was she so scared? And why was she barefoot on a cold winter's evening? It's Holly Blade's first case and she wants to know the truth. But how much is she willing to risk?

First in an arresting new series from BAFTA award-winning writer, Chris Ould.

Warning: contains explicit language and content. Recommended for readers aged 15+.

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Published October 1st by Usborne
Review copy gratefully received in exchange for my honest opinion
Check out more information (and the first chapter) at the Usborne Street Duty page

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