J.J. Liddy, the main character of Kate Thompson’s novel The New Policeman (2005), has a problem: there never seems to be enough time in the day. In fact, there seems to be decidedly less time. With barely enough hours in the day for school and his music, J.J. has no time left over to contemplate the shocking revelation that his grandfather may have been a murderer. To make matters worse, this time problem seems to affect everyone in Kinvara.
When J.J.’s mother reveals that she wants more time for her birthday, J.J. decides to go and find some. A task, at first, that seems like an impossible undertaking for a fifteen-year-old. That is until a neighbor shows J.J. an unlikely place to look for everyone’s lost time.
Even though he doesn’t believe in fairies, J.J. finds himself in Tir na n’Og, the land of eternal youth, and the home of Irish fairies. So begins J.J.’s search of Tir na n’Og to figure out where the time has gone and, more importantly, how to get it back. Along the way J.J. meets a variety of memorable characters including Aengus Og (a personal favorite after finishing the novel).
The narration shifts throughout the book alternating between J.J. in his search for the county’s lost time and the wanderings of the new policeman in Kinvara, Garda Larry O’Dwyer. Like J.J. (and most of Kinvara it seems), the new policeman has a love for music. The new policeman is also almost certain he used to have a good reason for becoming a policeman—if only he could remember what it was.
Thompson expertly entwines these two seemingly disconnected narratives throughout the novel. The common thread between them remains the music that literally runs through the novel. Chapter breaks are denoted by sheet music for traditional Irish songs whose titles relate to the story in addition to the strong affinity all of the characters have for music. By the end of the novel, Thompson ties together both stories creating a sensational end to a truly enjoyable book.
At the same time, The New Policeman is irresistibly Irish, as if you can hear an Irish accent in the narration (or hear a jig or two in the background). The book’s “Irish-ness” is enhanced by Thompson’s integration of Irish mythology and folklore; a glossary in the back explains the pronunciation and origin of especially Irish words like ceili (a dance) or craic (fun).
Thompson’s novel has already received a variety of critical acclaim on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition it is the winner of the Whitbread Children’s Book Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Even better, though, is the fact that this book is a great choice for readers of any age. Thompson takes her time arriving at the crux of the plot, but the richness or her writing more than makes up for that. A good book is one that can transport the reader to the place within its pages: The New Policeman does that and more.
Originally published in Great Britain in 2005, this is the first year that The New Policeman was published in the United States. All this reviewer can say to that is it’s better late than never.
Possible Pairings: The Shadows by Megan Chance, The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin, Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner, Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta, Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan, The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner