Johnny Nothing could be, has been and probably will continue to be compared with the works of Roald Dahl. This is a shame, as Ian Probert’s book stands up all on its own and needs no comparison.
In fact, if comparisons are obligatory you could, perhaps, conjure an image of, say, a Tim Burton version of Dahl, with Mr Burton in a very dark mood.
But that wouldn’t give you the humour and sense of wicked fun that winds through the story.
The story is essentially a simple one, of a young, bullied boy who inherits a large amount of money, to do with as he pleases. The conditions of the will make it possible to increase this inheritance tenfold… but there are conditions. And first Johnny has to regain possession of the bank card…
The characters are well drawn. Mother is the inaptly named Felicity, the grasping, self-serving epitome of greed. It is she who had purloined the bank card… From here a moral tale unfolds, with a good many lessons for younger readers carefully woven through the story.
It is hugely funny… I laughed out loud at several moments; most memorable for me was Ben’s tattoo. Children will not fail to be amused, but I have to say that this children’s story is written as much with adults in mind. The layers of humour are rich and frequently topical. This may be the only downside to the potential longevity of the book.
The illustrations are dark and unusual. I personally like them very much. The cover, though striking, however, may not instantly appeal to younger readers. It was, however, one of the things that drew me to it.
I bought Johnny Nothing at lunchtime and had read it by dinner. I couldn’t help it… I had to see what happened next.
Ian Probert has been scribbling down words ever since he learned to spell the phrase: ‘Once upon a time…’. He is the author of Internet Spy, Rope Burns and a bunch of other titles. Internet Spy was a bestseller in the US and made into a TV film. Rope Burns is a book about why books shouldn’t be written about boxing. Ian has also written things for a shed load of newspapers and magazines. When Ian was a student he used to write lots of letters to the bank manager.