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The dark side of midnight
by Carol Hedges
Jazmin Dawson is a super-cool secret agent with hi-tech kit and a hi-octane life of crimebusting... in her dreams! In reality, Jazmin is a schoolgirl with a serious snack habit, whose biggest battles are with her maths homework. But then everything changes. Jazmin’s mum, who is a spy, goes missing and Jazmin is sent to rescue her. Stepping off the plane in Prague, Jazmin finds herself at the centre of an international mystery, and with a dangerous mission to infiltrate a rogue scientific institute.
“An action-packed page-turner with a heart.”
Books for Keeps
Carol Hedges is the successful author of several books for children and teenagers. Her writing has received much critical acclaim and her novel, Jigsaw, was shortlisted for the Angus Book Award and longlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
Carol has one grown-up daughter and lives in Hertfordshire with her husband, two cats and a lot of fish.
THE DARK SIDE OF MIDNIGHT
Dark clouds were massing on the horizon. The rider glanced up, and swore under his breath. He knew exactly what it meant: a storm was coming. Not a good omen.
For this was Antarctica, the remotest place on earth, a white wilderness where temperatures could drop to below minus fifty-four degrees. The rider rechecked his coordinates, then jumped onto the Snokat. He had to hurry. There was not much time.
Deep in their snow hole, the two men waited, listening to the unending silence. Exhausted, huddled together for warmth, they had not moved, nor eaten, for days. Only a thin fragile thread of hope was keeping them alive. Nearby, a third man was curled in his sleeping bag. He looked contentedly asleep. But his two companions knew better: this was a sleep from which he would never awake. A few hours earlier, the man had finally succumbed to frostbite and the mind-numbing cold. Now he was dead. And over in the corner, a big, black body bag lay against the wall of the snow hole, its zip ominously pulled up.
The rider halted. He drew out his thermal imager, held it up and made a quick three-hundred-and-sixty degree scan of the horizon. Satisfied, he continued going forward, the Snokat skimming easily over the powdery white surface. He knew he was racing against time. And time was running out. Fast. The faint whine of the vehicle penetrated the icy prison walls of the snow hole. The two men sat up and exchanged disbelieving glances. Could it be? Or were exhaustion and cold making them hallucinate? The sound continued, got louder. Summoning up the very last of their carefully hoarded strength, they slowly and painfully began to tunnel their way out.
The rider waited. He watched the two men hatching from their frozen cocoon like a pair of grotesque insects. He saw them help each other to stand shakily upright, brushing snow from their purple, encrusted faces. He waited until they had both turned to face him, their snow-blinded eyes bright with joy and welcome. Then he drew out the sub-automatic, lifted it to his shoulder and fired two shots.
The Snokat bounced over the surface, leaping ice crevasses, racing ahead of the fast-approaching storm. Tied to its rear, the black body bag stood out sharply against the endless white of the polar landscape. The rider crouched low, pushing the machine to its limit.
Behind him, two bodies lay crumpled on the ground, their blood petalling the snow with crimson.
The first flakes began to fall.
Jazmin Dawson stood in the office doorway, double-checking the lunch order on her fingers.
“A tuna melt on rye,” she repeated, “two lemon Cokes, two Danish and a cream-cheese bagel.”
“And whatever you want for yourself,” Assia Dawson added, glancing up.
“Okay, I got all that,” Jazmin said. “Catch you in ten.” She spun round, her mass of dark curly hair whipping over her shoulders, and bounded energetically out of the room.
Assia smiled proudly after her daughter, then looked across the desk at her deputy and shook her head. “When did she grow up? And how come I missed it?” she asked disbelievingly.
“Hey, that’s how it is nowadays,” Hally Skinner consoled her. “I’ve got a niece just like it. Fourteen going on I don’t know what. Turn your back and, suddenly, they’re no longer kids. You better believe it! Uh-huh!”
“I guess you’re right,” Assia sighed reflectively. “Only somehow, my daughter just seems to have got there very quickly.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” Hally agreed. “But at least you know you did a fine job.”
Did I? Assia thought silently. Did I really? Her brow furrowed. Since her husband had died, when Jazmin was only six, Assia had been forced to work full-time to support them both. Over the years, this had resulted in so many broken promises, she thought regretfully. So many nights working back late. So many childminders. So little quality time. And now, seemingly overnight, her child had metamorphosed into a young woman. Right under her nose. A young woman whom she was beginning to realize that she barely knew.
Meanwhile, out in the hot, summertime city street, Jazmin waited in the lunch-line, clutching her purse and trying to pretend that she spent every midday queuing to buy her lunch, exactly like the adults around her. Her mind started drifting. She tried to imagine what it would be like to be just another faceless employee, like so many thousands of others working in the big city. Returning at night to her city penthouse, where her rich, handsome boyfriend would be waiting for her.
From this, it was only a short mental hop to her favourite daydream: the one in which she starred as her alter ego Jaz Dawson, secret agent and crime fighter. Jaz Dawson was hot. She was everything her creator wasn’t: tall, kick-ass gorgeous, with straight blonde hair and a peachy-clear complexion. She also looked good in skin-hugging Lycra and she didn’t have a serious snack habit. Jazmin’s left hand stole down to her imaginary utility belt, where her imaginary gun was clipped. She tightened her stance. She was poised, taut and ready to spring into action. She was coiled steel, invincible. She was...
“Hey, little girlie, you buying lunch or taking a nap?”
Jazmin came to with a start. Somehow, she’d reached the head of the line without realizing it. Oh pig! She must have mentally wandered off again. Stammering and fumbling her words, she blurted out the lunch order, embarrassed by the shop owner’s pitying smile and his heightist comment, and also by the ripple of laughter behind her back. Feeling herself getting smaller and hotter, she collected her order, paid for it and stumbled out of the shop. Uh! Get a grip, she told herself severely. Or maybe next Take Your Daughter To Work Day, her mum’d choose to Leave Her At Home instead.
When Jazmin got back to the office, she discovered that her mum’s desk was empty.
Hally nodded towards the far door. “She’s taking a meeting with the boss,” she said.
“Oh.” Jazmin pulled a face. She placed the brown bag and cans of drink on the desk. Her spirits sank. A meeting with the boss could only mean one thing. Her mum was probably going to be sent on another assignment. She slumped into her chair, shoulders sagging despondently.
“Hey, girl.” Hally reached across for her lunch. “Don’t look so down. Maybe it’ll be good news – a pay rise. A long weekend. She could get lucky. Who knows?”
“You want to hang out with me? I’m going to eat up on the roof terrace.”
“Okay.” Jazmin brightened. She got up and followed Hally out of the office.
It was peaceful on the roof terrace. The city lay stretched out below, a shimmering mirage in the heat of the midday sun, its sounds backgrounded to white noise. Jazmin leaned on the parapet and gazed across the familiar London skyline. The precinct where her mum worked was located in the main inner-city commercial area.
She could see glass-topped malls and high-rise offices, their multi-faceted sides glittering like jewels in the bright sun. Dwarfed beneath them, she saw the London Eye slowly revolving, the white dome of St. Pauls. And in the distance the scribble of the river, a silver ribbon of movement touching the big city lightly on its way to a far-off sea.
This is my city, Jazmin thought. She’d been born here and had grown up in one of its many suburbs. She felt her heart swell with pride. Right now, in all the world, there was nowhere else she’d rather be.
“Nice view?” Hally said, as if she could read Jazmin’s thoughts. She leaned her elbows on the wall and turned towards Jazmin, a serious expression on her face. “Hard to believe that people down there are getting beaten up, robbed and murdered even as we speak, isn’t it?”
“Oh...I...” Jazmin stuttered.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to upset you. I was only kidding, right?” Hally grinned. She put on a funny mock-official voice and intoned solemnly: “Crime figures are down fifteen per cent throughout the city. Murders and robberies: ten per cent. Street felony: two per cent. The number of carjacks has fallen by five per cent over the last six months.” Hally paused, then whistled under her breath, her eyes widening in fake horror. “Hey girl, if we carry on being this good, the city could be crime-free in a couple of years and me and your mum’d be out of a job.” She shot Jazmin a crafty look. “You couldn’t see your way to doing a little littering on your way home, could you? Keep us fine upstanding crime officers in employment.”
Jazmin smiled. Hally’s sense of fun was infectious. But beneath the kidding, she also knew that there was more to the job Hally and her mum did than merely chasing kids for dropping litter. A lot more. The precinct where they worked was the London headquarters of GID – the Global Intelligence Department. Hally and her mum were members of ISA – the International Security Agency. It was their job to identify and then track down individuals, groups and organizations that were engaged in criminal activities that threatened global security.
It was a tough job, Jazmin knew that too. Dangerous even. And every time her mum had a meeting with her boss, it meant that something had come up, and her mum was being sent out on another assignment. Trouble was, lurking at the back of Jazmin’s mind was always the terrible thought that, one day, her mum would be given an assignment from which she might not come back.
When Jazmin returned to the office, she found her mum seated at her workstation again. She was studying a document file, while absent-mindedly nibbling at her sandwich.
“Good lunch, hon?” she asked, without looking up.
“Sorry I wasn’t around. Listen, I thought you might like to back up some files for me this afternoon. You can use the machine in reception. How about it?”
Aha, Jazmin thought. Backing up files. Right. The old, familiar get-her-out-of-the-office-for-a-while task. It looked like her mum wanted to talk to Hally about something important. Assia handed Jazmin the access code. “Take as long as you like,” she smiled, flipping the document cover over so that Jazmin couldn’t read it.
Sure, Jazmin thought, pulling a wry face. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? She walked slowly out of the office, stood on the landing for a while, then doubled back and peeked in. Uh-huh. She was quite right. Her mum and Hally were sitting close together, heads bent over the file. They were talking in low voices. Their faces were serious and grave.
Jazmin took the elevator to the ground floor. Why couldn’t her mother have a different job? she grumbled to herself. She sighed. Okay, she was incredibly proud of her mum – Jaz Dawson, her imaginary, crime-fighting secret agent alter ego was partly based upon her. But sometimes, Jazmin thought, she’d give anything for a mum who worked in an ordinary, boring, unadventurous, nine-to-five office job. Even if that meant the world was a little less safe as a consequence.
A rattling good adventure story for the nines-plus.
Caroline Franklin, Newbury Weekly News
Intrepid Jazmin Dawson jets off to Prague on the trail of her mysterious missing mum. Never has a spook cared more about her wardrobe or her stomach.
Jazmin Dawson's mother is a spy. When she goes missing Jazmin is catapulted into her dream world - at the centre of an international mystery in the historical city of Prague with a real part to play.
The narrative cleverly blends the preoccupations of a teenage girl - weight loss, boyfriends, looks - with a sophisticated, materialistic future world of high technology and spiritual sterility. The environment provides the perfect breeding ground for those appearing to offer radical solutions - Jazmin's vulnerable cousin becomes a prisoner of a cult religious sect and a scientist revives the centuries-dead Lucifer, Lord of Light, by means of his own scientific invention.
Jazmin finds her first love in a clown, Tonda, who makes her realise that physical appearance is irrelevant but a moral code is the basis of a meaningful friendship. Jazmin learns a great deal about herself, about the flaws in the world she inhabits - and about her mother's high-powered, dangerous career. This is an action-packed page-turner with a heart which goes some way to breaking the male action man stereotypical mould."
Books for Keeps
This is an exciting and fast-moving thriller for young secondary pupils.
Ann Trevenen Jenkin, School Library Journal
Spy Girl is a new addition to the genre, we know and love. However, it doesn’t simply follow the formula. It is told from an omni-present and yet very teen-aged perspective. Our main character is flawed: she can be jealous, tell lies, and can’t just get any guy that she wants... Nevertheless, perhaps she is closer to the alter-ego she dreams about that she thinks. Spy Girl is stylishly written, with many a truism included, to amuse its target audience. It crosses the bridge between traditional action adventure (the junior spy story) and more female directed fiction, of friendships and relationships. This novel, either in an extract or its entirety, would serve as a useful text to explore both genre and writing style for upper KS2 and KS3 students, as a whole class or guided reading text. Similarly, it would make a valuable contribution to any class library, being both accessible and fast paced.
It didn't take long before I was...totally in love with Jazmin. So many issues get addressed in this action packed book. Cults, parent-daughter relationships, life of high flying business men, a little bit of a futuristic style with some of the houses, paranormal with angels, mild teen romance, life of spies and criminals. This is definitely one of those books I'll be raving about to friends for a while, and insisting people check it out. Definitely gets 10/10 from me!
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the dark side of midnight
Really good. A must-have read.
amber, 27th June 2008
The Dark Side of Midnight
This is a story that will shock you - but it's worth sticking with it. It's sad in some places but you will want to keep reading to find out what happens to Jazmin, Assia and their colleagues. Jazmin is just an ordinary school girl until her mother is sent to Prague. After losing contact with her mother, Jazmin is sent to track her down and the book follows the adventures she has trying to find her. I really enjoyed this book and have read both of the sequels. I can't wait for the next one to come out - and I've read all the recent Nancy Drew books and agree that this will really appeal to anyone who enjoyed them.
Charlotte, 9th March 2008
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