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Thursday, 3 November 2011

In Review: The Boss

Mix the pupils of a single school year concept in something like Harry Potter plus the control of agents from a command centre from something like NCIS:Los Angeles with the child investigators of, say, Enid Blyton's Five Find-Outers and Dog and you have the latest title from the DFC Library, The Boss by writer John Aggs and artist Patrice Aggs.

The class of year five are on a school trip during they overhear two men plotting to steal something from the castle that they are visiting. One of the kids, known only as The Boss, quickly forms the class into teams covering the main areas of the castle as well as reconnaissance squads to find and then track the criminals.

Castle maps, video cameras with zoom lenses and mobile phones keep the class in touch with the criminals while reporting back to the Boss who tries to keep his fellow students away from the teachers while gathering enough evidence against the men to give to the police. But can a bunch of kids really save the castle's priceless illustrated manuscript from being stolen?

It is to the credit of writer John Aggs that I read The Boss straight through without even considering that it had originally been subdivided into weekly segments in The DFC comic, where this particular Boss story was called The Castle Heist. Scanning back through it again with that in mind I could see where it was split up, a few moved word balloons helping to obscure the splits, but that does not diminish the fact that this is a fast paced and involving story as the children attempt to outwit the criminals while at the same time protecting their own actions from any potential interference by their teachers. To say that this has the feel of a modern take on an Enid Blyton style adventure story may be taken by some people these days as a mark of disrespect to John Aggs, but I say it having read and enjoyed dozens of Blyton's Famous, Secret and Mystery adventure books in my youth.

Patrice Aggs' art impresses in differentiating between a posse of school children all wearing the same coloured uniforms as well as creating a convincing castle where the majority of the action is set and that the reader gets to know their way around over the course of the story. Her choice of angles in her panels keep the story interesting in what could have been a repetitive locale while her reveal of how the class capture the person they consider to be the criminal is startlingly effective.

Why do the children consider one of their number to be 'The Boss'? Who is he and, for that matter, what is his name? How does he know what to do and how are the class so good at all this 'secret agent' stuff? We aren't told and, in fact, it doesn't really matter as the story proceeds at such a fast pace that the Boss himself is onto coping with the next problem without having time for the reader to think too much about the background to the situation.

The Boss is the sort of 'kids outsmarting the adults' adventure story that children love to read, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it as well.

• There are more details of The Boss on on the David Fickling Books website.

• There are more details of John Agg's work on his blog.

• There are more details of Patrice Agg's work on her website.

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