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Friday, Oct. 11, 2002

ON THE BOOK TRAIL

"Time Stops For No Mouse," "Hairy Bill"


"Time Stops For No Mouse," Michael Hoeye, Puffin Books; 2002; 262 pp.

It's a mouse's world.

Maybe not ours, but the world of Hermux Tantamoq definitely is. It's populated by villainous rats, busy beavers, pretentious otters and dapper moles. But mice -- watchmaker Hermux, aviatrix Linka Perflinger and cosmetics tycoon Tucka Mertslin -- they are the most memorable characters of this tale. And they certainly have fabulous names.

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Hermux is a typical mouse -- he loves his simple life. He tinkers with timepieces for a living. In the evening he cycles home; feeds his pet ladybird, Terfle; slips into his cheese-print flannel shirt and fuzzy gown; puts on a pot of hot soup; and settles down to read the Weekly Squeak.

Not a bad existence, right? But all that changes when daredevil pilot Linka walks into his store to get her favorite watch repaired. She's everything that Hermux thinks he's not -- adventurous and brave -- and he's smitten. But when she doesn't return to collect her watch and a shifty-looking rat comes in her place, Hermux's whiskers are set a-twitch, and he decides to sniff things out for himself.

Hermux reads in the papers that Linka was flying supplies to a troubled expedition in the Teulabonari Rainforest before she disappeared. The explorers were looking for something -- so valuable that the search was sponsored by the richest mouse in the world. They found what they were looking for -- but now someone else wants it.

Meanwhile, Hermux's neighbor Tucka is launching a revolutionary product that promises eternal youth -- packaged in a watch-shaped bottle cast with Hermux's help. After all, Tucka reasons, if she's trying to stop time, who'd know more about it than a watchmaker?

But what does poor Hermux know! He finds himself being sucked into a sinkhole of deception and intrigue. And all alone -- but for Pup Schoonagliffen, a young mole reporter who befriends him.

Here's an entertaining mystery novel to bury yourself in, as our watchmaker-turned-sleuth follows a trail of clues -- and encounters some red herrings -- leading to a terrible plan that must be stopped at all costs.

Although this world is inhabited by mice and other animals, their concerns are surprisingly close to our own -- the pursuit of eternal youth and perfection. Here's a thought, though: Is perfection such a good thing?

Maybe we don't need to be younger, older, thinner, fatter, shorter or taller than we are -- what we need to be is ourselves. Look at Hermux: He's happy being an ordinary mouse, nibbling on cheese in his armchair. But that doesn't stop him from becoming a hero when the situation calls for it.

For children 9-12 years. Available at online bookstores, and (in hardcover edition only) at Tower Records Shibuya 7F, (03) 3496-3661, and at Kinokuniya, Shinjuku, (03) 3354-0131.

"Hairy Bill," Susan Price, Macmillan Children's Books; 2002; 90 pp.

Looking for someone who'll clean up after you, all the time, for free? Meet Hairy Bill.

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This guy could be called Scary Bill -- he slithers down the chimney late at night, speaks in a low grumbling voice and turns from nice to nasty before you can say "split personality." But the main reason he's so scary? He's unbelievably hairy.

He's the Matheson family's house bogle -- a shaggy sprite with a fetish for cleaning. He's been with the family for generations, but little Alex Langford knows nothing about him. That's because the bogle used to live with Alex's great-aunt Jeanie. But when she dies, Hairy Bill comes looking for a new home. Trouble is, Alex's mother (a Matheson before she married) knows that bogles are bad news. She wants their house guest to leave, but he's come such a long way to find them, he doesn't want to . . .

Instead, he'd like to do what he does best -- tidy up. It doesn't sound like a bad idea to Alex at first: having their very own house bogle to wash the dishes, dust the house and clean the windows. All the bogle wants in return is bread and milk each day -- and cake and cream on special occasions.

But this creature of cleanliness soon tires of sweeping up the crumbs from Alex's sandwiches and taking his coat upstairs. (So now you know that moms aren't the only ones who get exasperated -- so do bogles.) He starts insisting that Alex do these things himself. How much fun can that be?

Things get worse when Hairy Bill appoints himself house decorator in addition to house cleaner. The family gets a nasty taste of his style of decor -- tartan rugs, deer's heads and Scottish landscapes. But when Alex's mother finds that most of their "new" furnishings have been stolen from their neighbor, she decides enough is enough and searches on the Internet for an exorcist. What follows is a spine-tingling climax of shape-changing and spell-making.

This is a wickedly written tale -- it starts with a bang and ends with a mess. With clever illustrations to keep you hooked, this spooky story tickles your funnybone while giving you goosebumps.

And Alex, who doesn't quite believe in magic to begin with, finds that he has some of his own.

For children 7-9 years. Available at online bookstores.

E-mail Payal Kapadia about this new fortnightly column or about the Educa tion page in general at payal@japantimes.co.jp


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