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Catchers

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by Alan Winning-Wyatt

The trouble with teenagers is that they can’t be bothered to write reviews of the books that have been written specially for them. Those books end up having to be reviewed by old fuddy-duddies like me, who don’t have the right mental attitude to appreciate them properly. Everything I say about Alan Winning-Wyatt’s new novel Catchers needs to be seen in this context.

Perhaps not quite everything, as I did manage to get a teenager to comment on the illustrations. I was categorically informed that the drawings had been done by a talented child, rather than an adult. I have no way of knowing if this is the case. Certainly there is a contrast, in terms of quality, between the front and back covers of the book, but there is no indication that more than one person has been involved, the illustrations being credited simply to "Maddie". My consultant remarked, unprompted, that it would have been preferable to let readers’ imaginations work for themselves, rather than including pictures of all the weird and wonderful creatures mentioned in the text. I don’t necessarily agree, for reasons that may become clear in the rest of this review.

In case you’re wondering what "catchers" are, they are rodents with peculiar additional traits and powers that, in the past, stood mankind in good stead. For reasons not altogether apparent, they were exiled from human civilisation and, at the beginning of the book, no one is quite sure whether they still exist – or ever did. Suddenly the humans find themselves once more in need of the catchers’ services, in order to protect "The Source", a curious entity on which the city of Greatoak depends for its survival. Only a few individuals, such as Kerstan, Blandithorpe, and the unfortunately-named Mutley, have the skill and courage to resist the mysterious enemy that threatens the Source.

There is more than a hint of Lord of the Rings about this fantasy tale, and a touch of Narnia to boot. That is no bad thing. For a writer to take his inspiration from classics of modern fiction is not the same as plagiarism. Mr Winning-Wyatt has enough original ideas of his own to make it a story worth writing. The problem is that his narrative style is nowhere near the same standard as that of Tolkien and Lewis. If only he had asked someone with a better knowledge of grammar to look over his work, he might have been able to eliminate some of the solecisms that frequently interfere with the reader’s ability to understand what he is driving at. "Seated around the table were chairs," he tells us. (Seated on what?) One can tell that he is writing as he speaks, possibly not realising that, whereas in conversation body language and tone of voice can be relied on to assist in conveying meaning, there are no such aids available to the printed page. The result is that the action, pacy and direct though it is, can be difficult to follow.

In terms of physical presentation, Catchers could hardly be improved upon. It is a hardback, containing clear print and lavish illustrations on good paper, with a price ticket that suggests it is aimed at libraries – and I don’t doubt it will sell. It seems a shame that no one was around to offer the author guidance on how to make this potentially fascinating story more readable. There is, of course, potential for a sequel, and his style should become more polished as he gains experience. It would be a pity if he did not take the opportunity to look for some assistance next time round.

Buy this book from Amazon

catchers.jpg

ISBN 1 905226 67 5
Melrose Books, 2006
126pp, illustrated hardback
Retail price 11.99

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher