Thursday, November 10, 2011

Artful Dodging: Outlaw by Stephen Davies

"What's with the hugging?" said Kas. "I haven't seen you hug Dad since you were, like four years old."

"But this time there was a very good reason for hugging." Jake took his right hand out of his pocket and jangled the keys to his father's motorcycle.

Kas' eyes widened. "Who do you think you are? The Artful Dodger? What are you going to do with those?"

"Isn't it obvious? I'm going to warn Yakuuba."

"You don't know where the camp is."

"Yes I do. Remember when I charged my phone in the grass hut? No phone signal, but the GPS worked just fine."

"You got a fix!" cried Kas. "I suppose you think you're clever."

"Above average, yes."

"You're an OUTLAW," said Kas.

How does a fifteen-year old boarding school boy find himself in a terrorist camp on the edge of the Sahara, trying to fend off a Predator drone Hellfire missile attack against an outlaw who is actually the good guy foiling an international plot to control the gold industry in Burkino Faso?

Well might you ask.

When Jake Knight is caught in a schoolboy game of midnight "geothimble," (a high-tech amalgam of "Who's Got the Thimble" and geocaching), trying to break in to Britain's Leeds Prison, he finds himself summarily suspended from his stolid prep school and shipped off on the first plane to Burkino Faso, where his father is British ambassador. Jake is fine with that: he prefers life in the exotic and happily hazardous scene in Ouagadougou to the bog of boredom at Waltham College.

And for adventure Jake is in the right place at the right time. On his second day there, at a glittering diplomatic dinner with gold-encrusted desserts, Jake and his sister Kas are kidnapped, thrown in the back of a yellow bouillion cube delivery van and hauled deep into the Sahelian back country by a ruthless band who plan to ransom the two by force the exchange of their young Brit hostages for political prisoners. Jake manages to keep his trusty smart phone hidden and contact his father briefly from the back of the van, enabling the police to track his position, but it seems nothing in Burkino Faso's politics is quite what it seems. Their kidnappers are indeed impostors, their leader pretending to be the noted ecoterrorist Yakuuba Sor, a misstep which draws the real Yakuuba, a.k.a., The Chameleon, to disguise himself and "rescue" the two for his own questionable purposes.

But the Police Commissioner Beogo, seemingly working with the British MI5 agent and Jake's dad to find them, is himself part of a conspiracy to gain control of the country's lucrative gold mining industry, actually working at dangerous cross purposes which threaten Jake's and Kas' lives, and when the real Yokuuba at last succeeds in returning the two to the embassy, he becomes the target of the ruthless MI5 double agent Dexter and his co-conspirators. Missiles are programmed to destroy Yakuuba as soon as he returns to his camp, and Jake realizes that only he can stop this injustice.

Stephen Davies' forthcoming Outlaw (Clarion, 2011) is a rip-roaring, romping-stomping, over-the-top adventure story in the venerable tradition of Dime Novel boy heroes.

Davies equips his protagonist with a plenitude of physicality, such as "wall-walking," a technique of impressive climbing which enables him to top ten-foot walls with a single bound, and an array of cunning high-tech skills, including charging his smart phone with a combination of full-fat goat milk and a flashlight battery and diverting missile strikes with flares.

Arrayed against Jake are also formidable forces, including a rogue secret agent's top gadget, the HI-MEMS (Hybrid Insect-Micro-Electro-Mechanical-System), a bio-cyborg beetle which tracks Jake and Yakuuba wherever they go. Add in Jake's wise-cracking, eye-rolling thirteen-year-old sister Kas who rises to the occasion and a Robin-Hood-like illusionist desert ecoterrorist out to outdo all the diverse bad guys, and we have a whale of a politico-thriller cum adventure story laced with whimsical Brit humor and suitably bad-guy villains with non-stop action from first page to last.

Author Davies, himself a resident of Burkino Faso, provides plenty of Francophone local color and characters to set this one apart from the usual picaresque tale of adolescent derring-do and his inconclusive conclusion leaves the story open to further sequels for the armchair adventurer's reading pleasure. A really good read for 'tweener thriller fans.

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