“Archer’s Goon” by Diana Wynne Jones (1984)
There is no way in the world I would ever have read this book except that my friend and colleague, Laura, lent it to me after a conversation about good books… and I love it when books are recommended to me.
Apparently, Archer’s Goon was a TV show when Laura was a child and she loved it, so when she saw the book, obviously she bought it. I knew nothing about the story, and hadn’t heard of the TV show, but the blurb immediately invited me in:
When Howard Sykes comes home and finds the Goon taking up all the available space in the kitchen, life turns upside down. The Goon refuses to leave without “Archer’s two thousand” owed, he says, by Howard’s father.
But Mr Sykes doesn’t owe anything as simple as money. As Howard desperately tries to unravel the mystery of the disappearing words, he uncovers all sorts of incredible things about Archer, his crazy family, and who is really running the town where he lives.
There are definite comparisons to Roald Dahl in Wynne Jones’ writing and this is a compliment, not a criticism. Especially in the way that the children seem better able to cope with the increasingly odd things that happen than the grown ups. Howard’s sister, Awful, is exactly that, but somehow appealing nevertheless. Howard’s father, Quentin, is endearing in a bumble-headed way, and it is only Howard’s mum, Catriona, to whom the reader never really warms.
There is a lovely twist to this story and I’m confident it dawned on me at almost exactly the point in which it was meant.
My only small criticism is that the book has absurdly long chapters. With 316 pages, the book is only 16 chapters long, and it felt like each one could easily have been two. This might seem like a trivial point, but if, like me, you read at bedtime, the droopy-eye-sleepy-monster requires shorter chapters.
I thoroughly recommend this adventure to pre-teens and everyone who loves a rollicking adventure story.