Jack is a tearaway who leaps from the pages of this latest story from Bernard Ashley, alive and full of spirit to deal with what life deals him. He is a bit thrown when his plans to escape evacuation at the beginning of the Second World War come to naught as his teacher obviously can read his mind. However when he lands up at the big house in the village, having to mind his manners but finding a good friend in Clive, the son of the house, and being treated well, he decides to stay, well just for a bit anyway. There is a manservant, sort of batman, who travels with the Colonel, Clive’s father and he is less than welcoming to Jack. Having found what they think is a code book, Clive and Jack decide Parker is up to no good and follow him one night to a local farm where they see flashlights being used as a signal, but for what purpose?
The resourceful and technically-minded Clive rigs up a system to warn Jack of Parker’s night time movements and the boys follow him, but it falls to Jack to search Parker’s room for evidence of spying. Parker catches him and Jack is hauled before the court of Lady Ashwell and the Colonel. To his surprise Jack is let off and Lady Ashwell decides to try and work out the codes found in a book. It turns out that Parker and the farmer Hunden, who is mistreating some evacuees, are involved in black market meat, and Parker is dismissed. Jack is offered a chance to go back to London, but in a surprising turn, decides to stay.
Bernard Ashley’s skill brings Jack and the family vividly to life, and the reader identifies with Jack as he struggles to understand the world in which he is living, and though which, with an agility of mind, he makes his way. I would question the word ‘Spiffo’ which Clive uses a lot – not quite sure whether it is a Clive word or a word the reader might think is used by the upper class during the war? In the end class does not come into this story really as it is the friendship between two boys from very different backgrounds which makes the reader care about Jack and his future.