The New Policeman by Kate Thompson, 2005, 279 pages.
In the village of Kinara in Ireland, a young fiddle player, J.J. Liddy, asks his mother what she wants for her birthday. "Time," she answers, with good reason. All the time in Ireland is pouring into the land of Tir na N'og, and J.J. finds himself racing to find the leak before time runs out, discovering the truth about his family's past in the process, and learning some great new tunes.
The New Policeman is fun, fast-paced, and engaging. Thompson fleshes her plot out with music--J.J. comes from a family that has Irish traditional music at its heart, and each chapter ends with a tune transcribed by Thompson. As the wife of an Irish piper and sometime fiddle player myself (although I stopped when my oldest was born, because my playing made him scream), it was fun to see the tunes she chose, and fun to read her descriptions of the music with a critical eye ("anarchic" is not a word I would use to describe it. It has lots and lots of rules, both musical and social).
I enjoyed reading the book. I managed to find time to read it basically in one go on an evening alone with the kids while my husband was off playing at a local session (I sent them outside repeatedly, so it was a win-win). But it didn't move me emotionally. I didn't find a scrap of numinousness in it--that feeling in the best fantasy books when your eyes get all big and you perhaps feel a bit shivery. Tir na n'Og was mostly just a neat sunny place. When it was supposed to be a bit scary, Thompson basically says "this bit felt a bit scary." Nor was there any depth to the characters. J.J. is never more than your basic Nice Boy; everybody else is primarily a place holder.
Still, I will be reading the sequel, The Last of the High Kings, as soon as it makes it over here. Here's a glowing review of it from a UK reader.
Others apparently see things in The New Policeman that I don't--it won the Children’s Books Ireland Bisto Book of the Year, the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 2005, the Whitbread Book Award Children’s category 2005, the Children's Book of the Year in the Irish Book Awards in March 2006 and has been longlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
Note: No musical metaphors were used in the writing of this review. If musical metaphors are what you really want, read the reviews at Amazon. You will find lots.