Fourteen-year-old Matt, an orphan with strange abilities who is constantly getting into trouble, is sent to live with a foster parent in a remote Yorkshire village after being involved in a violent crime. His new guardian, Mrs Deverill, seems to be hiding something sinister and the village and all its inhabitants are creepy as hell. Matt tries to escape but somehow can’t get away and everyone who tries to help him seems to end up dead.
The first part in Anthony Horowitz’s series The Power of Five is an efficiently told and highly effective supernatural mystery thriller that knows what it’s about and delivers a pretty gripping story but borrows from some old routines. You’ve heard it before, an outsider turns up in an out-of-the-way community, attracts the attention of the unsettling locals, conspiracies, strange-goings on. It’s The Wicker Man for kids.
But in spite of the clichés everything about the story works. The protagonist, a victim of tragedy, failed at every turn by the people who should protect him, is easy to root for and the loneliness of his situation effortlessly encourages sympathy. Horowitz keeps the air of mystery going for chapter after chapter as the reality of Matt’s nightmare slowly becomes apparent. The feeling of futility that pervades his escape attempts make for very frustrating reading, but I mean that in an entirely good way. You’ll want Matt to get away because it’s so easy to imagine yourself in his shoes.
It’s also pretty unflinching in its description of the horrors he faces. There are several grisly deaths and no detail is spared. The sense of threat and Matt’s vulnerability never wavers and the mystery is punctuated by a handful of very exciting sequences including one standout in a famous museum. There are some fumbles; one important character’s backstory is crowbarred in with distracting obviousness and a number of frenetic moments suffer from too much description but these are minor faults in what is a highly entertaining series opener that teases part two without resorting to a cliff-hanger ending.
Highly recommended mystery reading that takes well-worn supernatural ideas and makes them relevant in a skilfully-told thriller.