Samuel is 11 and is not in a happy place, his Dad has left home and his mother has started getting dressed up to go out again. Samuel is a very unusual child, he is questioning and intelligent and the adults around him are by turns bemused, frustrated and irritated by him. In characteristic fashion Samuel decides to think creatively and steal a march on Halloween by going trick or treating a few days early. When he gets to 666 Crowley Road he finds more than he bargained for when Mr and Mrs Abernathy (with a little help from CERN's Large Hadron Collider) open a portal into another dimension and the gates of Hell begin to melt which will allow The Great Malevolence to lay waste to the world. Clearly Samuel and his dog Boswell have to stop this but when Samuel seeks help from adults they see only a child and do not believe him. Samuel has to rely on his wits and his dog, a few friends and a demon called Nurd, the scourge of Five Deities to save the world.
This is a hugely entertaining read. The tone of the book is light and accessible and Connolly has allowed the humour, which features in all of his books, even the dark Parker series, full reign. It is not just a book that entertains as there are also footnotes and riffs on particle physics, the Big Bang, philosophy and babysitters. The Gates has a very linear story line, there are occasional small branches off the main story that are short entertaining sketches but it's story arc is uncomplicated and perfect for ages 9+. I remain skeptical about it's marketing on publication to adults, but then the two adults who run book group both enjoyed the book immensely - so I am probably wrong.
I am interested in whether the book reveals Connolly's views on religion, although the story features the gates of Hell which will release The Great Malevolence, there is no mention of Satan and there is no sign of God - who you might think would take an interest in whether the gates of hell melt. The reader is treated to an opening chapter on the big bang theory which 'contained the building blocks of all that you see around you' and which also contained evil.
'There's a little bit in all of us, and the best thing we can do is to try not to let it govern our actions too much.'
It would seem that personal responsibility, rather than religion and a higher power, is the message, if there is a message, to be taken from Samuel's willingness to oppose Mrs Abernathy when the adults around him do not believe him. Taking personal responsibility is not a bad message to take away having read this entertaining and funny book.