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Mind the Gap: A Novel of the Hidden Cities by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon
Review by Andrew Brooks
Spectra Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780553384697
Date: 20 May 2008 List Price $12.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

Paranoia might be the word best associated with Mind the Gap -- a collaborative effort from Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, and the first in a new series dubbed The Hidden Cities.

Jasmine Towne has been raised to trust no one, to follow her instincts if things don't feel quite right and to disappear completely should anything go wrong. When Jasmine, or Jazz, does all three in the opening chapter you get the feeling her mother knew something all along that her daughter didn't. What that secret knowledge is lies at the dark heart of Mind the Gap, and provides enough magical realism, mystery and creepy thrills for two books -- although Golden and Lebbon manage to squeeze it all into one.

To say the book starts quickly is an understatement. No sooner have we met Jazz and learned a bit about her then she is avoiding the mysterious men in black known as the Uncles and shortly thereafter running for her life.

I've heard it said that a writer must not let his characters get comfortable, that the key to compelling fiction is to make it tough, tough, tough. Jazz finds her mother murdered by the men who had previously helped them and, written in her dead mother's blood, the words "Jazz Hide Forever" scrawled on the wall. With the cops in the Uncles' pocket Jazz is forced to trust no one and to run from everything she's ever known. That's tough.

When Jazz ducks down into the Underground to hide, things get really interesting, and pretty creepy. It's there that she finds a group of young thieves called the United Kingdom and their father-figure Harold Fowler. Having no where else to go, she falls in with the thieves and is soon the best thief any of them have ever seen.

However, there's more to the warrens and tunnels beneath the city, and what Jazz finds down there concerns her in more ways than she first imagines. The first time she comes across the Hour of Screams is pretty good stuff, and the kind of wonderful idea that both Lebbon and Golden are known for. It's magical realism at its finest.

We get a sense of how the thieves live, as well as the knowledge that there are other hidden cities below the Underground, but it's not too long before the Uncles find Jazz and the action-filled plot is off like a shot again. At this point things don't really slow down again until the final page.

As the first book in a new series there is lots of set-up, but Golden and Lebbon never give the gang much of a chance to rest on their laurels. So the book manages to avoid going pages and pages where not really much happens, but the entire world is laid out in numerous details. They give you just enough to extend the mystery and set up the next twist or chase.

That's not to say, however, that Mind the Gap is mindless fun. Characterization obviously comes first with the authors and they do a fine job here. Jazz, Harold and the master thief Terence are all pulling against each other in ways that both entertain and move the story along. Plus there's enough mystery with Harold and Terence to make the reader doubt their intentions as much as Jazz does. I like my stories with morally ambiguous characters and Jazz's new friends fit the bill perfectly.

Despite being the first book in a new series, Mind the Gap has a satisfying conclusion. There's apparently a lot more going on down there in the Hidden Cities than is fully revealed here, and Golden and Lebbon leave things open for the following novel or novels.

It's a light-speed read with mystery, magic, ghosts and a fascinating subterranean world. Great stuff. Recommended.

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