Reviews of two quite different mystery novels, The 13 Treasures by Michelle Harrison, and North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler, and two big summer blockbusters; Star Trek into Darkness and Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
The 13 Treasures (Michelle Harrison)
Telling the story of a girl with the seemingly unique ability to see fairies and other fabled creatures, this fantasy weaves an intricate narrative into an absorbing and atmospheric tale of myth and mystery. Tanya’s mother, fed up with her acting up, ships her off to stay in her grandmother’s stately manor for the summer, but Tanya’s perceived misbehaviour is all the work of hostile fairies invisible to most people. Already facing a lonely existence with this unwanted gift, Tanya is drawn into an old mystery surrounding a forest near her grandmother’s house in which a teenage girl went missing, never to be seen again, some fifty years previous. Together with the groundsman’s oddball son Fabian she tries to piece together the truth of the girl’s disappearance. This is an accessible but complex novel that delves into the world of traditional mythology to present a richly-realised world of mischievous sprites and goblins. The story takes time to take off but the interweaving plot threads and enigmatic setting eventually combine into a rather fascinating mystery adventure.
North of Nowhere (Liz Kessler)
Thirteen-year-old Mia and her mum travel to the seaside town of Porthaven for half term after her grandfather, who runs a local pub with his wife, goes missing. Wrestling concern for her grandfather and her own frustrations at spending her time off from school away from her friends, Mia is slowly drawn into a baffling mystery involving a village on the nearby island of Luffsands. There are two problems with North of Nowhere. For one, Kessler spends far too much time setting up the baffling events of the book’s second half and not enough explaining it all at the end. More troublingly there’s a central friendship between Mia and another girl that develops over a long distance and conjures in the mind any number of horror stories involving vulnerable children meeting fake ‘friends’ made online. It sits very uncomfortably in the story and just plain doesn’t work. A lot of thought has gone into the plot and its complexities but these downfalls keep the story from achieving its potential.
Star Trek into Darkness (12A)
J J Abrams’ sequel to his own successful reboot of one of cinema’s longest running film franchises, based on the famous TV shows, is another rollicking adventure that keeps the action coming at a steady pace. When a rogue Starfleet officer, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), launches a campaign of violence against his employers, Captain Kirk and the crew of the Starship Enterprise are dispatched to track him down. The very watchable ensemble cast are all on form and Cumberbatch lends credible menace to his role but it’s the spectacle and peril that will keep you most entertained. The story itself could do with better exposition and development but this is hardly a problem while you’re watching when the sense of adventure is maintained so constantly.
The Great Gatsby (12A)
Baz Luhrmann’s lavish adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic book, one of the great American novels, is the fifth time the story has reached the big screen. Told from the point of view of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), the story focuses on DiCaprio’s enigmatic millionaire, his extravagant parties and his relationship with Nick’s married cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). Luhrmann favours over-the-top visual excess over the novel’s subtleties. This is less a critique of wealthy exuberance than a simple depiction of it but it’s a legitimate vision of the source material and the image of the roaring twenties and lavishly realised party scenes are a breeze. But while most of the performances are excellent there’s a lack of narrative focus that serves the story poorly. The pacing is languorous, the structure rather disjointed and the running time as excessive as the parties. It’s better to let the sweep of it wash over you than to try and invest yourself in the characters.