Finmere Tingewick Smith is a 16-year-old who lives a distinctly unusual life. Once every year he must make his way to the Old Bailey to meet a security guard who conducts him to what he takes to be an old people’s home. There he cares for some old gentlemen and converses with his guardian, Judge Harlequin Brown, who carries a sword.
Even weirder, in alternate years Finmere attends different schools. One is a typical mixed inner city comprehensive school. The other is a posh private school where they do ‘prep’ instead of homework. Finmere has two best friends, one in each of his schools, Joe (comprehensive) and Christopher (posh) who have never met.
Finmere is summoned to an unscheduled meeting with his guardian. This time they meet not in the old people’s home but in a building named the Rookeries, the very existence of which is a secret. The judge tells him that there are two worlds, the Somewhere and the Nowhere. As he leaves, Finmere turns back to ask further questions. He finds his guardian dying from a wound delivered with his own sword, which Finmere now takes into his possession. The remainder of the book – a fantasy and a crime thriller in one – deals with Finmere’s attempts to unravel the death of his guardian and understand how it affects his own destiny.
Silverwood’s book is far from being a comfortable read, but it succeeds in its aim. It is a complex narrative and the fast pace is well sustained for most if not all the time. People passing between the two worlds, the Somewhere and the Nowhere, can be afflicted with a sudden and violent ageing process – moving from 30 to 80 overnight. This device raises the interesting question of what we actually mean by ‘old’ and challenges the youthful perception that old age equates with lower personal worth. I have never before see this issue tackled in quite this way in a book intended for a teenage readership.