The Great Space Race

Eric ‘Ace’ Crankshaw’s family are swindled out of millions by evil businessman Zac Zircon. With bankruptcy looming and the unpleasant and showstealing bailiff, Danny Thumper, along with his two savage dogs Love and Hate, on their trail, the Crankshaws try to win $10 million by entering the Zircon-sponsored Great Space Race and be the first to land a rocket on the moon. Despite the plot using one of the hoariest of child novel clichés, The Great Space Race is an entertaining romp that is both fast paced and very funny. Mowll captures the enthusiasm of madcap, guitar-loving and ever-so-slightly-eccentric Ace and his family perfectly. There are a number of hilarious set pieces, particularly one where the family attempt to raise money by giving a concert in the local shopping centre, and the plot races along to a predictable but satisfying finale. There’s also, however, an unnecessarily clunky chapter of exposition near the end where the bad guy, for no obvious reason, explains his scheme in inordinate detail so that the heroes eavesdropping from another room can find out what’s going on.

As with his work for older readers, Mowll crams the book with photographs, margin notes, maps and drawings that give it a part-scrapbook, part-diary, part-novel feel. The effect is intended to enhance the narrative and this it manages very successfully indeed (as well as being subversively educational in places). Aimed at 8–12-year-olds, the book has enough humour, farting, madcap inventions and monkey robots to provide an entertaining and rewarding read, although older readers may be less enthusiastic about the predictability of the plot and the somewhat unlikely means by which the Crankshaws acquire their rocket (£5 on eBay).