Jimmy Coates: Assassin?

Jimmy Coates

Note:  This is the first book in a very popular British series.  Unfortunately, it’s not widely available in the US.  But, you can find used copies fairly readily on the Amazon marketplace.

Author: Joe Craig

Publication: Harper Collins, 2005

Pages: 224

Overall Rating: bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                        

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Age Category: 9-12

Brief Summary:  Jimmy Coates thinks he’s a normal kid until men in black suits come to his house one night to take him away.   Something happens and his body takes over.  He leaps out a second floor window and lands unharmed on the pavement below.  He can run fast, fight grown men, scale tall fences with ease, and suddenly knows a great deal about everything from guns to helicopters.  Jimmy doesn’t know what’s happening to him.  All he knows is that the people in black suits have his parents and they’re out to get him.  It’ll take every ounce of his new found knowledge and abilities just to survive.

Age of Main Character: 11

What I Liked the Most: Craig does a good job of providing Jimmy with some adult allies but not letting them take over.   While the adults he’s with are highly trained, Craig finds ways to separate them from Jimmy so that even while they’re helping each other complete a mission Jimmy is left largely on his own and has to survive major parts of that mission without help from any grown-ups.

Craig also does a good job of dropping hints as to what’s really going on with Jimmy, and he does so without giving away too much information.   By the time the answer is revealed it’s still surprising, but doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of left field.  Craig has given away just enough about what Jimmy can do for it to all make sense.

Finally, I liked the way Craig manages to keep the tone of the book light without seriously reducing the level of tension.  He does a good job of breaking up the action with moments of fun, and even manages to toss a bit of light hearted banter into some of the fight and chase scenes.  I don’t always like that approach.  Normally I take my action dark and bitter, but in this case it works.  It gives the novel a swashbuckling flavor that really mingles well with Jimmy’s character.

What I Liked the Least: The story is set in the future when Britain’s government has changed to something called a neo-democracy, where apparently people only vote when the Prime Minister feels like it.  I had no problem with that premise, but it felt underdeveloped.   Outside of a few early hints that something’s different, for the most part the book felt like it was happening today.  Then suddenly we find out that there’s this neo-democratic state and some of the people Jimmy trusts are loyal too it.  But we never really learn why there’s a neo-democracy, nor do we get more than a bare-bones understanding of what that means.

There are also odd comments throughout the book – for example, Jimmy and his friend play computer games but can’t really get into them because, since the ban on almost all American products, the new releases suck.  Problem is, we never find out why there’s a ban on American products.  It felt like Craig either needed to fill out this new neo-democratic world he’d created, adding in more details and background, or he needed to drop the concept entirely and put Jimmy in modern day Britain.

Finally – and I’ll try to say this without giving too much away – the people after Jimmy want him to do a job for them.  They’d been planning to wait until he was 18, but came early because the job was so important.  There’s someone he has to kill and only he can do it and make it look like an accident.  In this case, the problem is that the job Jimmy is given feels like one that could just as easily have been accomplished by a well trained adult and without all the mess created by bringing Jimmy in early.  Craig needed to come up with a better excuse for setting the story in motion.

How Good was the Action?  The action provides a nice mix of speed and blow-by-blow with just the right touch of banter thrown in.  This isn’t an adrenaline-packed rush and it’s not meant to be.  It’s solid, light hearted action (though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it comedy) and it works.  The action moves quickly and there’s enough variation that it never gets repetitive.

How Engaging was the Story?   This is not a deep novel.  Character development is mediocre at best, and there are a few too many characters for us to get close to any of them – except perhaps Jimmy.   Likewise, the science behind what happened to Jimmy wasn’t very well explained and didn’t seem particularly realistic.  But the truth is I didn’t care.  I was too busy enjoying the story to notice those kinds of problems at the time.

Overall Assessment: If you go into this book looking for good science, a character-driven story, or bone-crunching action you’re likely to end up disappointed.  On the other hand, if what you really want is a light hearted romp through the world of tyrannical governments and teenage assassins then you’re in for a treat.  This book was a fun read, pure and simple.   And I came out of it eager to find out what was next for Jimmy Coates.

Profanity: None

Sex: Mild flirtation and innuendo

Violence: Yes, but it’s not especially gruesome.

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