Guest reviewer Adam Bollard inspects Frank Cottrell Boyce's latest take on reinventing Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Ian Fleming's other literary creation...

The Race Against Time Review

24th November 2012

When most people think of "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", their minds turn to Dick Van Dyke, toot sweets and The Child Catcher. But that's the marvellous Eon Productions musical film from 1968, not Ian Fleming's original children's novel published four years before from which the film was adapted. Mind you, Frank Cottrell Boyce's "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang And The Race Against Time" isn't exactly Fleming's version either - but it isn't a reimagining like the film, it's as much a continuation as an update of Fleming's tale.

It's actually the sequel of a sequel. Published last year, Boyce's effort Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again was the official sequel to the '64 original, sanctioned, as it was, by Ian Fleming Publications to bring into the 21st Century the James Bond creator's other star character, a magical vintage racing car that can fly, chug along water and save others thanks to its kindly but cheeky Herbie-like personality. Replacing the Pott family (Chitty's owners in Fleming's book) with the modern, multi-racial but likeable Tootings family (Dad, Mum, Lucy, Jem and toddler Little Harry) from Basildon, he sent them on an adventure to put Chitty back together from bits of the vehicle they found all over the world.

One of the strengths of its predecessor, though, is at first a flaw this time round. For like Boyce's first story, "Race Against Time" is a breathless ride around the globe - New York City, London, the Lost City of El Dorado and, er, Basildon - and in time - the Cretaceous Period, the Roaring Twenties, the Sixteenth Century and 1966 and all that. So much so, in fact, it seems to kick-off immediately where that book ended, which is probably great for readers of the latter, but means newcomers have to play catch-up while Chitty and the Tootings (all of whom we get to know on the fly and none of whom are actually introduced to us) grapple with Tyrannosaurus Rexes and villains Tiny Jack and Nanny (whom we assume to be a child and his woman guardian because that's not spelt out until much later).

 

Datastream
Publisher: Macmillan
Format: Hardcover / Kindle
Pages: 240
RRP: £10.99
Order Amazon UK

Yet, once the book moves on from its action-packed dinosaur opening and reaches NYC in the crazy 1920s, like Chitty itself, it spreads its wings and begins to soar. Good characterisation and strong plotting joins the break-neck pacing - as well as the rather wonderful, if rather dumb Count Zborowski (Chitty's original race-driver owner and actually a real man Fleming wrote into his original's back-story) - and from then on it's a rollicking, riveting, light but involved read.

Indeed, thanks to the speed with which Boyce tells his tale and the constantly changing setting, it almost feels cinematic. It's surely no surprise, as the author's other work includes not just the kids' novels "Millions" (2004) and "Framed" (2005), but also the screenplays to Michael Winterbottom's "24 Hour Party People" (2002), Danny Boyle's film adaptation of "Millions" (also 2004) and his 2012 Olympic opening ceremony. This experienced, skilled writer's latest version of another Fleming re-boot then is sure to prove a child catcher most deserving of Dick Van Dyke and the onscreen Potts family with which we fell in love!

Many thanks to Adam Bollard.

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