Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Silver Stone by Bill Brown. Bookcase. £10
Michael Tanner found himself “catapulted headlong down a deep, dark hole. He dropped down a mine shaft, cutting his bare legs and arms on the razor-sharp rock. His fall was broken by a rough wooden plank.”
In Bill Brown’s second novel for children, young Micky Tanner is working on a farm in Borrowdale. The year is 1772. He is searching for some missing sheep in the mist when he falls down a mine shaft. The plank saved his life for he might have fallen to the bottom of the shaft. But he can’t get out. He is trapped in the dark, damp mine.
He is rescued, but rescued by a pair of drunken criminals, Porky and Charlie. They have been involved in the theft of the valuable lead from the black lead mine in Borrowdale. Their accomplices have been arrested and are waiting trial in Carlisle gaol. Porky and Charlie want their share of the money for the crime and are intent on getting their accomplices out of the gaol and finding out where the money is. Young Micky is just the lad they need to free their mates. He finds himself tied up and strapped to a cart and taken over the mountains to Carlisle.
Meanwhile his brother, Freddie, hears of his plight and makes his way to the city.
The Carlisle of 1772 still has its walls. It lives with memories of Jacobite heads hanging above the city gates. Scottish drovers drive their cattle to the market at the Sands and gentlemen attend the horse races on the course by the river. The market is held in front of the Town Hall and a pillory is placed there for the humiliation of wrongdoers.
Micky, under dire threat, is taken to the King’s Arms, for his captors to prepare the jail break. It was a place where “the whiff of stale beer and sweaty, unwashed customers made Micky feel sick.” A young barmaid, younger than Micky, brings their order to the table. “She placed Charlie’s tankard on the table and then laid Micky’s water, also in a tankard, in front of him. As she lifted the third drink from her tray it slipped, spilling some of the amber contents across the table and dribbling onto Porky’s legs. He let out a yelp. Heads spun round. The girl jumped back. He sprang to his feet, raising his arm to slap her. Micky leapt up with an amazing reflex and grabbed the big man’s wrist before his hand connected with the girl’s face. ‘Whaa….!’ Porky yelled. He flung Micky back into his chair, giving time for the barmaid to flee.”
That reflex action gave Micky a much needed friend in the threatening city.
The criminals escape from the gaol. There are frantic chases through the narrow lanes of Carlisle, through the cathedral and out of the city walls.
But there is much, much more. A group of teenagers, the Changemakers, are in possession of a silver stone. It transports them back to the Carlisle of 1772. Freddy and Micky are their friends from a previous adventure, told in The Time Tunnel. And there is a space-hopper.
The Silver Stone is full of surprises, of frantic chases and dramatic encounters.
It is an exciting story that is bound to catch the imagination of any 8 to 12 year-old in Carlisle. These are events taking place in their city, in streets that they know. It brings the streets of the old city alive. Bill Brown, a one-time church minister in Carlisle, tells an entertaining story, but he also paints a lively picture of what Carlisle was like in the eighteenth century.