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One of the many excitements of this novel is that the reader stands on constantly shifting ground. Even the title is unstable. At first, the 'useful idiots' might seem to be the 'Inglish', the aboriginal people in 2255 who preserve old values and ways of life in the Rhine Delta Islands or, as the region was once called, the United Kingdom. For the land itself is shifting since the melting of the icecaps; and much of this novel occurs in the brilliantly evoked landscape of marsh and waterways through which the Inglish move by punt or, surefooted and swift, by vaulting from patch to patch of firm ground. There's little firm ground for archaeologist researcher Merrick Korda, who comes to realise that he himself has been a useful idiot, manipulated, exploited and even hunted by different players in a dangerous game. Her innocent yet tenacious protagonist serves Jan Mark well; for we too may well be as mystified, fearful and shocked as Korda yet, like him, become as desperate to trace the labyrinthine plot to its end. Given the small cast of characters, it might be expected that the sources of the malign pressures upon Korda would be transparent; but the climax of the novel - and a climax it is in two more senses than one - is as unexpected as it is savage and unsentimental. Even the nature of the novel keeps shifting. At first, it seems to be a dystopia, yet this bleak future is not so much a warning or a dark lesson as a pervasive setting for a political thriller. Jan Mark offers no compromises. The text does not flinch from difficult vocabulary or, when the intensity of the plot demands, from violent collo-quialism. What she demonstrates through the quality of her writing is that you don't have to go in for relentless pace to generate riveting action. The book begins with the discovery of a skull, embedded in the peat after a huge storm has washed the sand from Parizo beach. Beneath the skull sits a complete skeleton, with traces of a bullet grooving the eye socket. So who shot Parizo Man and why? As the layers are excavated, levels of deception and intrigue are exposed, laying open the kinds of conflicts we can foresee as we stare into our race's future. A surface reader will not survive long in a plot as tortuous as the tracks through the marshes. Who will read Useful Idiots? Adults and Young Adults, for sure. Mature readers then - ah, but there's the fallacy. For this publisher reminded us, when he published His Dark Materials with Scholastic, that some readers as young as 10 or 12 will take on 400 pages of intricate plot and even the challenge of political and sexual complexity. For those readers, this is surely five starsworth of sustained absorption.