Hey Folks in the Smoke,
"Itch" is an impressive debut, realised with an easy style, populated by intriguing characters and propelled by a combustible plot.
I am ever-wary of novels penned by celebrities. But I couldn't resist giving this the benefit of the doubt, mainly because I've a soft spot for geek chic.
"Itch" tells the story of the perilous fortune that befalls Itchingham Loft, a budding element hunter, when he acquires some unidentified rocks. He's trying to collect samples of each of the elements on the Periodic Table but gets much more than he bargains for when he purchases these from his dealer - an as-yet-undiscovered and highly radioactive element, one that any number of nefarious adults would love to possess. There then ensues a rollicking tale of danger, intrigue, business tyrants, scientific sell-outs, noble researchers, violence, radiation poisoning, international terrorists, many explosions and teenage heroics.
It's lively, fun, witty, clever and absorbing. The science is solid but never laid on too thickly, it's pitched perfectly. Mayo doesn't pander to his young audience, he drops hints, he leaves things unexplained in the hope that if their paying attention and suitably interested they'll find more out. His vocab is nicely diverse and suitably challenging when the situation calls for it. He weaves an interesting family dynamic, and I really loved that 14 year old Itch's companion and best friend is his female cousin, Jack. No rude boys or girly girls or sickly crushes here. While Itch himself is a socially awkward but brave, moral and layered character. The adults are believable; by turns, they are flawed, insecure, workaholic, loving, tender, funny, sweary (though we never hear the swears), violent and complicated. Those are the strongest aspects of "Itch", the plot isn't see-through and the characters are complex.
Mayo's style is deceptively fluid and it's a pleasure to read, he does have a lovely turn of phrase. And you get the impression he really loves Itch. His dialogue is strong and current, and at no point condescending. There was one clawing moment, after the climax, but I'll totally forgive him that. "Itch" is a thrilling read full of heart-pumping chases and ingenious plans, but it also has interesting themes and explores what Itch's passion costs him and those around him. It feels gritty, authentic and refreshing. I look forward to more Itch adventures (a follow-up is due next year) and to Mayo strengthening his writing voice and interests.
Thanks for reading,