The race is on ….  The publishers are hyping every children’ s fantasy as the next big thing …. and yet,  in a year when over 200,000 titles were published in Britain alone, here’s one very, very good read that was self-published.  

Proving that no publicity is bad publicity,  the book came to my attention via a fracas on a couple of internet fora.  My curiosity piqued, I checked it out.. Once I saw the tartan book cover, in my favourite shades of blue, gold and burgundy and the rather witty ambigram, the book was destined for my bookshelves.

In the first of an intended series of four, we are introduced to Justin Thyme a 13-year old genius and self-made billionaire, who lives with his eccentric family and a computer-literate gorilla in Thyme Castle, overlooking Loch Ness.  Justin becomes obsessed with building a time machine.  His father, afraid that Justin’s project will bring the Thyme family curse crashing down, discourages him.  Yet, when Justin’s mother is kidnapped, Justin’s time machine appears to be the only way to save her.

All of which sets up a neat scenario and a thoroughly entertaining mix of riotry, wit, humour and suspense.  Interpersed throughout the narrative is Justin’ss explanation of the enigma of time: wormholes, timeforks, causal loops, the ultimate time travel paradox – nothing escapes his gaze.  I’ve no idea of whether I’m dealing with science-fiction or science-fact here but I now believe that changing the course of an historical event may not destroy the fabric of time after all!  (And so is undone the indoctrination of my hitherto estimed time-travel mentor: Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap )

When I’m reading novels of this kind, I like to imagine I’m reading out loud to a younger audience.  Are the characters colourful?  Would I have fun reading it?  Would they have fun listening? Yes, yes and yes again: Justin’s doddery amnesiac grandfather, his American TV-celebrity mother, his dipsy boy-obsessed teenage sister , the computer-generated voices of the pet gorilla and last but not least the daft but hilarious mixed-up English of the Czech cook  – Nadezhda Przolwamiczenkof!  

And hidden amongst all this sci-fi and adventure are two good mysteries: 1) Who is the villain of the piece? and 2) Who is the author?  For Panama Oxridge is a pseudonym and there are clues hidden throughout the text, which pieced together on the accompanying website,( should reveal the real author’s identity.  The kids should love this – something to keep them occupied on another rainy summer afternoon.

The book is not flawless.  It is inconsistent in its level of vocabulary, as though the author couldn’t quite decide on the age range of his audience.  However, the more complicated words are helpfully explained in glossary at the back of the book.  The narrative is sometimes ponderous in its scene-setting.  Forgiveable also. It is the first in a series and I, therefore, expect Book Two will no longer be hindered by the backhistory.

In the final analysis this was a great find.  I can’t wait for the publication of the next title – I just need to find some kids to read it to! My 19-year old boy no longer humours me …..