Words and Pictures – Operation Red Jericho by Joshua Mowll

redjerichoNine years ago, Joshua Mowll and I both had babies.

Well, in truth, neither of us did, but I became a dad for the first time and Joshua brought into existence his beautiful children’s novel, Operation Red Jericho. I remember vividly reading Amanda Craig’s review in the Times and thinking, I must find this book. Fortunately, I worked in Waterstones at the time, so this was a fairly straightforward process. The book was a work of art. A beautiful textured, Moleskine-like notebook, filled with the most incredible maps, pictures and diagrams. It had fold out schematics of fictional, fantastical vehicles and devices. It was something to treasure, even if I never read it.

I justified the purchase, because I had a son now, and yes I should be buying nappies, clothes and exorbitantly priced travel systems, but one day, I was going to need to read him books, and well, it’s good to plan ahead. The following year, Operation Typhoon Shore arrived and finally Operation Storm City came along too. I bought them all and they sat on the shelf until this summer.

This year, having read my son the Hobbit but floundered with the Lord of the Rings (he was insistent, but we got lost in the fog on the barrow downs), we were looking for something else to read. After a couple of false starts I pulled down Red Jericho and lured him in with the blueprint of a nemoesque subermsible. He took the bait, hook, line and sinker…

It’s fair to say he absolutely loved the adventures of Becca and Doug McKenzie. You can always tell a good children’s book, by the size of the tantrum at the end of a chapter. It’s a sad truth (or at least it is in this house) that the best books make getting the children off to sleep all the harder. The story is in the ‘Boys Own’ mould; plucky upper class children, who are far too inquisitive for their own good. Occasionally I was just waiting for somebody to request ‘lashings of ginger beer,’ but this shouldn’t put you off. Characterisation is strong, and whether male or female all have an equal part in the daring-do.  redreichosub

The plot involves disappearing parents, pirates, explosions, kidnapping, sword fights, madcap inventions and shadowy elite warriors. There really is nothing not to like. Set in Asia during the 1920s it feels historically accurate, aided and abetted by colourful maps, excerpts from mocked-up journals and blurry ‘antique’ photographs. Doug and Becca discover their parents were members of a secret society called the ‘Guild of Specialists’ but the children have no idea what they were searching for when they went missing. Becca and Doug’s investigations take them to various dens of iniquity, and situations more dangerous than they could have imagined. Running alongside are a French scientist wanted for a murder and a mysterious and powerful element, Zoridium, that has the potential to change the world.

Some of the language was a little too dense for Ethan (who’s coming up 9), he certainly would have been too young to read it himself, but as a read aloud book it was great. It provoked much pre-bed discussion.  The illustrations are peerless, and perfect for firing up the imaginations of inquisitive children. The story held his interest, and whilst there was the occasional gory bit, there was nothing to upset him. Upon finishing Red Jericho, he immediately started leafing through Typhoon Shore. I don’t think a recommendation can come higher than that. I’m not sure these books are still in print, but they are well worth picking up for they are works of art with brilliant stories. What more incentive do you need?


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