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Flesh and Blood

by Nick Gifford

(Puffin, £4.99, 211 pages, paperback, 8 January 2004.)

Review by Stephen Palmer

Following on from the entertaining and original Piggies comes Nick Gifford's second young-adult novel, Flesh & Blood. In this cover scannew work, Matt, the central character, is haunted by dreams of an unpleasant variety, a sort of parallel world where things just ain't right. The people of this dream-world know Matt is a newbie, and so they watch him, very carefully...

The novel begins with the funeral of Matt's Gran and an introduction to the family home at Crooked Elms; also to the family that will soon take over his life--Gramps, Uncle Mike, Aunt Carol and the sisters Tina and Kirsty, his cousins. Crooked Elms, it turns out, is unusual, but then Matt notices something more unusual, a certain patch of well-tended cemetery where six people died, all in the same year of 1898. Later, he learns that there is a certain, special skill in his family that he may have inherited. But other family members may not have inherited it, and that causes problems.

Slowly, as the novel progresses, a sense of claustrophobia is built up. Matt has more encounters with his cousins, with Uncle Mike and especially with Gramps. Then there is the black sheep of the family, Vince, who knows more than is immediately obvious. And there is something dark, compulsive and evil in the cellar at Crooked Elms...

This is an even better novel than Piggies, which was pretty damn good. I hope I won't embarrass the author by saying that the sense of family claustrophobia in particular is superbly portrayed--gripping, in fact--with an eye for detail that suggests a writer of considerable observational powers. Anybody who has felt the tensions at a family funeral, for example, will identify with the opening scenes, which grab you and pull you in to the novel. The weird, otherworldly fascination of the alternate world is also superbly done, again written with a strongly observational eye--bloodied seagulls, tramps etc. Great stuff. I read this in two sittings. It's not a long novel--211 pages in my copy--but it does leave a very strong impact.

Excellent stuff. I hope there's more!

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