And now, for something completely different. When I looked for works set in the French Alps, there was no telling what would pop up. One of the few that came to the surface was Anthony Horowitz‘s popular series featuring teen spy Alex Rider. His Point Blank is located in a Mont Blanc-like setting, cleverly called Point Blanc (but Anglicized in the title). I was familiar with the Alex Rider action/adventure series as I teach a course in Young Adult Literature, but I’d never cracked the cover on one until this trip in France. And the timing for reading this novel was perfect. We have been in Chamonix a couple of times this month already. The inspiration for the Point Blanc Academy, the setting for much of this thriller, must be the stunning Aguille du Midi, reached only by the world’s highest vertical ascent cable car. (Shown here from the hike we took on the “Grand Balcon” in early September.) The Alps must be a favorite locale for Bond type narratives; we noted when going over the Furka Pass a sign that read, “James Bond filmed here for Goldfinger.)
Alex, a fourteen year old school lad in Great Britain, is taken in by M16 when his uncle, a real spy–so to speak–is killed in the previous novel, the first in what has become a very successful series. (Scorpia Rising, the final installment, has recently made an appearance.) Ian Fleming inspired, Point Blank includes the usual suspects: a madman set to take over the world, a strange but very strong henchwoman, the head of M16, the spy, a possible love interest, and M16’s gadget expert. “Q,” the supplier of gadgetry in the Bond stories is Mr. Smithers, who provides Alex with a deadly Harry Potter volume that includes a stun gun in the spine; a CD player that can also be a chainsaw (select the Beethoven CD); and an earring stud that detonates.
The plot is straight out of Boys of Brazil with a bit of Stepford Wives thrown in. Boys of Alex’s age, who are the sons of wealthy or politically powerful parents but who also have a record of misbehavior are being cloned at the mountaintop academy so that they can advance Dr. Grief’s sinister agenda of white supremacy. The emphasis on blanc is intentional. Alex is planted in this academy and must discover its secret. The “twinned” boys of the Gemini Project are gradually released back to their families, who often are delighted at the transformation to “model” children. (That’s the Stepford tie-in.)
Naturally, Alex employs his range of gadgetry to save the day; a particularly clever moment is when he uses his CD/chainsaw to turn an ironing board into a snowboard to escape. Suspension of disbelief required. Adolescent readers can sign up for special “Intel” at Alex’s site: http://www.alexrider.com/. Although I’m no longer a teen, I found this a fast and fun read. James Bond, move over!