The New Policeman by Kate Thompson. I reviewed the UK edition (thanks, Shan!) The US edition will be published in January 2007.
The Plot: JJ Liddy, 15, is part of a family that has played traditional Irish music for generations; the tradition is so strong that JJ bears his mother's last name, not his father's. It's nice to have a sense of traditional in a modern world, especially a world so busy that there never seems to be enough time. So many things to do, so many places to be,; people speak wistfully of the past when there was enough time to sit, have a cup of tea, get to school on time, listen to music. Where does the time go? JJ is about to find out that it's not a matter of looking back at the good old days; there really is less time than there used to be.
JJ's family is built on tradition; at least, on the tradition of his mother's family. He's been raised in Irish dancing and fiddle playing and traditional music and ceilis, raised in the same house as his mother and her parents. His parents haven't married so that JJ could be a Liddy. In the first chapter, JJ learns something about his past that he didn't know (tho apparently the entire village of Kinvara did): "Sure everyone knows about it. Your great-granddad. JJ Liddy, same as yourself. He murdered the priest." And so the mystery begins.
The Good: There is the mystery of JJ's family's past and the murder of a priest; but there is also the mystery of the loss of time. And the loss of time is tied to myth and to magic.
I like how the pieces of the story link together, the music and myth and gods. Will it work for those with no or limited knowledge of Celtic myth and gods? Well, to be honest, The Dark is Rising was my introduction to Arthur and Welsh and British mythology; and while my adult reading of those books is deeper because now I am more familiar with those myths, it wasn't a barrier to understanding. It actually created a lifelong interest in those myths. In other words: yes, American kids will read and get it.
JJ discovers a parallel world to his, one where myths are real. He meets Aengus, who offers to serve as a guide. JJ finds out that he's not the first to slip from one world to the other. Meanwhile, the new policeman from Dublin, Garda Larry O'Dwyer, is investigating the series of disappearances in Kinvara: Larry O'Dwyer became a policeman for a reason. If he could only remember why.
I love how all the strands tie together at the end: faeries, forgetfulness, parallel worlds, time, music, gods, myths, family, even the new policeman.
I also liked how there is no action without a reaction; that an action always has consequences. If we are losing time, where is it going? And what impact does it have there?
Between each short chapter is a traditional Irish tune. I do not read music, so the music part is lost on me, but each tune has something to do with the chapters before and after it, whether it's "the cup of tea" or "last night's fun". I wish that the book came with a CD, so I could hear these tunes. And music plays a part in the resolution of the story; remember how JJ is a musician?
A second title for my best of 2007!
Winner of the 2005 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize and the Whitbread Children's Book Award 2005.