Nothing is more seductive to a teenager than the forbidden. Couple this with the abandoned, the derelict, the eerie, and you’ve got the ingredients of Nick Green’s thriller Cat’s Paw, second in the The Cat Kin series. Ben, Tiffany, and their gang of near shape-changing Pashki mates are back, this time fighting off a rival gang of homeless kids – trained as polecats – who live in an abandoned London tube station (‘the Hermitage’) and who are under the thrall of one Martin Fisher. Once feral child, Fisher is a true Hannibal Lecter villain – mad, bad, and cunning. His ruthless power over the kids under his control is nightmarish and thoroughly convincing; and his plans to destroy as much of humanity as possible, a desperate challenge for our cat kin.
Like the first novel in the series, Cat’s Paw alternates between Ben’s and Tiffany’s voices – well differentiated too, I’m pleased to note – a technique which skilfully heightens tension as well as enables the book to speak, as a consequence, to both girls and boys. And thankfully Green gets his girls right!
One of the things I most appreciate about these novels is that they don’t masquerade as YA books which, however, have actually been written for adults by so-called crossover (frustrated?) authors. Green has no need to prove his mettle: his work is fast paced and well written; nuanced, particularly with regard to friendship and family. You know these kids, you’ve met them – and his teen readers will recognise themselves as well. On occasion he may be a bit clumsy with his metaphors (‘Down they came like the wrath of Pasht, the scorching desert wind, and the noise of their approach was the deafening roar of silence.’) but perhaps I need to remind myself that teens don’t have the reading experience of adults, and what may appear somewhat banal to us (‘deafening roar of silence’) is new and fresh to them.
And altogether there’s plenty of very fine language to appeal to even the most sophisticated adult – metaphors which are appropriate like
Tiffany’s class milled on the concourse of St Pancras International, humming with pent-up energy like the waiting Eurostar trains, all except for Olly who sat alone, nervously sipping his Diet Coke.
or striking like
Mrs Powell watched blackbirds purl and knit through the highest twigs.
or simply delightful like
There were three [jaguar cubs], fluffy as toys, their spots smudgy as if they’d been playing with crayons.
Cat’s Paw hurtles along with the cinematic verve of a cracking movie (I thought of saying ‘tube train’ but reconsidered!), whose tension is lightened by well-placed touches of humour, so that I can easily imagine a film version. Like with all carefully planned serials, you can follow this second book without having read the first. And the resolution of the climax doesn’t rely on some sort of cheap trick, but is psychologically sound yet surprising, the result of Ben’s and Tiffany’s own choices – exactly what makes a reader exclaim: ‘Now why didn’t I think of that? It couldn’t have happened any other way!’ Perfect, too, is the satisfaction of a genuine conclusion, yet with an opening left for the projected third and final volume.
Green is an author to watch: he’s already fully as good as Anthony Horowitz or Malorie Blackman. One day he’s going to be much, much better.