Twelve-year old George damages a carving of a dragon’s head at the Natural History Museum and finds himself pursued by a pterodactyl which peels itself off the facade of the building seeking revenge. Its pursuit is joined by salamanders and George is in great danger until rescued by the statue of the Gunner from the Royal Artillery memorial at Hyde Park Corner. Joined by troubled runaway Edie, George is menaced by some statues and helped by others in a battle for survival as he crosses London in a quest to atone for his thoughtless action.Charlie Fletcher’s Stoneheart, published last year, and now out as a Hodder paperback, is a novel for teenagers, no doubt aimed at the Harry Potter market, with admitted echoes of Peter Ackroyd’s Hawksmoor (1985). It is an enjoyable read and its particular interest is in the figure of the Gunner, who has self-knowledge.
‘My maker was Charles Sargeant Jagger……Jagger did well out of the war. People liked what he done, making us look like heroes, but nothing crowing about it. Made us look like men who knew about mud and dying first, then made us look like heroes after. For them that lost sons and husbands, we looked like the men they wanted to remember them as, the men they hoped they’d become before the bloody generals sent them out to be butchered by the Boche.’ (ch.7)
‘… Jagger. He was a soldier himself, fought in the Great War, come out alive with a headful of what he’d seen, and making-hands to help others see a bit of it too.’ (ch.9)
Later in the book, Albert Toft’s figure of the Royal Fusilier from Holborn, familiar from the Channel 4 Not Forgotten series, comes to the rescue. ‘The Fusilier was a lighter-framed man than the Gunner had been, but he had the same dogged set to his jaw.’ (ch.34)
Although it is many years since I was a teenager, I think the book is good value, and recommend it. Let us hope that Charlie Fletcher’s book makes his readers take a greater interest in their surroundings, particularly war memorials.