By Anthony Horowitz
Philomel Books, 2009 Hardcover ($17.99)
Puffin, 2010 Paperback ($8.99)
For ages 10 and up (including adults)
Reviewed by Larry Jung
I don't know if Anthony Horowitz had fun writing the Alex Rider books, but I had fun reading Alex Rider's eighth mission for MI6, CROCODILE TEARS. This book has everything going for it to make it a page-turning spy thriller. There is an outrageous villain named The Reverend Desmond McCain; an ex-boxer, real estate entrepreneur, ex-minister of the British Parliament, who is now the CEO of the charity organization First Aid. There is the sabotage of a nuclear power plant in India. There is an arboretum of death tucked away in the pleasant English countryside. There is a genius scientist who has no moral problems using bio-terrorism for a tidy profit. There is the threat of a man-made plague that will kill thousands in Africa. There is a cold English spy master and a super secret agent to rival James Bond named Alex Rider. Did I mention that Alex Rider is 14 years old?
The story begins with a Loss of Coolant Accident — LOCA in the jargon of the nuclear industry — in the nuclear power plant in Jowaba, India. It was a LOCA that caused the nuclear incidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Ravi Chandra, a plant operator at the nuclear power station, only wants to make a better life for his wife and children. He accepts a promised sum that is five times his annual salary to plant explosives at the power plant. With the money he could buy his wife clothes, buy her a new car, and replace with a proper wedding ring the plain gold band she is wearing. He could take his children to Disneyland. He would move the family to a better neighborhood and get a big plasma screen TV for himself. All Ravi Chandra was to do was to plant the explosives next to one of the four reactor coolant pumps, then set the timer giving him five minutes to escape. Ravi Chandra owed this for his family.
When Ravi Chandra flips the timer on the explosive device, the bomb immediately goes off. Ravi would never see the money; he was double-crossed. The nuclear disaster makes international news. The first charity organization on the scene is The Reverend Desmond McCain's First Aid.
The young Alex Rider is unaware that the nuclear disaster in Jowaba, India and a coincidental meeting with The Reverend Desmond McCain would start a chain of events that would suck him back into the dangerous world of spy work he thought was behind him for good. It seems The Reverend Desmond McCain has his hand in several concerns MI6 is interested about. Alex is once again recruited against his will by MI6 to go uncover as part of a school tour of the super secret bio-genetic research complex known as Greenfields. There Alex finds The Reverend Desmond McCain conspiring with Leonard Straik, the director and chief science officer of Greenfields, on a scheme of bio-terrorism. Digging deeper into whatever McCain and Straik are up to, Alex is almost burned alive after discovering a movie stage setup to depict an African village that has been hit with a plague. Why the film an African village? Why intentionally set the warehouse on fire and destroy any evidence of the movie set? Alex learns that through various legal holdings McCain owns the building housing the African movie set. To Alex, it is more than coincidence that the name The Reverend Desmond McCain keeps coming up. For his part, McCain becomes convinced that it is not innocent coincidences that the name Alex Rider keeps coming up. McCain actively sets out to neutralize Alex when he learns Alex is working for MI6.
Alex Rider might be seen as a mixture of The Hardy Boys mysteries and the Ian Fleming James Bond novels. CROCODILE TEARS updates the genre of the boy's adventure tales into the 21st century with a story of bio and nuclear terrorism. Anthony Horowitz has written a story that doesn't talk down to his young adult audience. He balances the influence of the action/thriller movies his young audience are exposed to with the need to treat killing, torture, language, and violence at the PG level. In all this Horowitz has succeeded.
The plot is intelligent. The action is breathless. The character of Alex Rider is in the best tradition of the English super spy. He is modest and caring, but tough and resourceful. Alex has the Englishman's sense of honor. He believes villains need to be defeated at whatever cost. In many ways, Alex Rider can be compared with England's most famous spy, James Bond. Anthony Horowitz admits as much in an interview. He said that Alex Rider could be seen as a 14-year-old James Bond.
CROCODILE TEARS, Horowitz plays homage to the James Bond books. Greenfield's bio-sphere of genetically enhanced plants, insects, and reptiles is like Blofeld's garden of death in Ian Fleming's YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE. Alex Rider's escape using the air conditioning ducts is similar to James Bond's escape from Dr. No (even down to the super-heated metal of the duct burning their hands and knees). Alex Rider's high stake card game with The Reverend Desmond McCain is just like the high stakes card game in CASINO ROYALE that Bond had with LeChiffre. For Alex Rider and James Bond failure will never be an option.
I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed the book. Though CROCODILE TEARS is written for a young adult audience, like the Harry Potter books, it can be enjoyed at any age. Anthony Horowitz, in my opinion, captures in CROCODILE TEARS the sense of the exotic, the allure of the bizarre, and the threat of the sinister that make the James Bond thrillers so outrageously entertaining. What could be a better recommendation to get a copy of COROCDILE TEARS?
The Alex Rider Novels:
- US publication dates (UK publications are one year earlier)
- STORMBREAKER (2001)
- POINT BLANK (2002)
- SKELTON KEY (2003)
- EAGLE STRIKE (2004)
- SCORPIA (2005)
- ARK ANGEL (2006)
- SNAKEHEAD (2007)
- CROCODILE TEARS (2011)
- SCORPIA RISING (2012)
This review is based on the hardcover edition.
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