Sunday, July 16, 2006

Review: The New Policeman

I can't for the life of me figure out whether or not Kate Thompson's The New Policeman will be published soon in the U.S., but if it isn't on the docket, then I highly recommend buying this book through a distributor (check Amazon). It's a wonderful novel and has been kid-tested here (by a ten-year-old reader) as well.
JJ Liddy’s family history is missing a few chapters. Born to a musical family in Kinvara, Ireland, JJ one day discovers the town rumor about his family—that his grandfather killed a priest. Moreover, his last name, Liddy, is his mother’s name. And, his mother’s father disappeared before she was born.

But most of Kinvara ignores the rumors because the Liddy family has a gift—the gift of music. They all play instruments and host céilí (“a dance”) at their farm. Still, rumors about his family’s past trouble young JJ.

JJ isn’t the only one with problems in Kinvara, however. There’s a new policeman on the beat and he’s not very good at his job:

  • “Larry O’Dwyer sighed and took a step towards the narrow double doors. He’d had a good reason for becoming a policeman but sometimes it was difficult to remember what it was. It wasn’t this; he was sure of that much. He hadn’t become a policeman to curtail the enjoyment of musicians and their audiences. A few miles away, in Galway city, violent crime was escalating dramatically. Street gangs were engaged in all kinds of thuggery and muggery. He would be of far more use to society there. But that, as far as he could remember, was not why he had become a policeman either. There were times, like now, when he suspected the reason, whatever it was, might not have been a particularly good one.”

And, the town is suffering from a lack of time. Time is draining away. When JJ’s mother says that all she wants for her birthday is more time, JJ sets about trying to find it for her.

A local publisher named Anne Korff helps JJ find more time for his mother. I’m not going to give away any secrets, but Korff’s help involves a souterrain, another world, and multiple disappearances from Kinvara. (There’s a wonderful anecdote, by the way, about Anne Korff in a short foreword to The New Policeman.)

The New Policeman is a beautifully written novel. Each chapter begins with a song, notes included for the musically inclined. It’s fast-paced, funny, and thought-provoking—easily my favorite novel of the year.

The New Policeman was the winner of the 2005 Whitbread Children’s Book Award and of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.