I like this series despite all the reasons it annoys me, it has the capacity to be a fantastic series but to my cynical mind has become just another money spinner, but I’m getting ahead of myself as per usual.
The first book sets us down in the exciting time that we all know as 1977 in Ragley-on-the-Forest, North Yorkshire. And each book chronicles a sebsequent school year in the life of Jack Sheffield combining fiction with humourous stories from his own teaching career.
Each chapter starts with a diary entry from the Ragley School Logbook and is a self contained story chronicling all the big events throughout the school and personal lives of the characters.
The stories are gentle and relaxed, and as you would expect run a whole range of emotions. The poignant, the heartwarming, mirthful and other such things that make people smile.
The characters all have their own idiosyncracies and amusing ways, there is Deke Ramsbottom, a cowboy obsessive, who has sons called Wayne, Clint and Shane, Ruby the 20 stone musical singing caretaker, a bunch of kids whose honesty and way of looking at things is always amusing and not forgetting the oblitigary local ‘baddie’ Stan Coe. There are many other characters inhabiting Ragley and its sorrounding area and many other lovely creations to get to know.
The series’ downfall though comes from the incessant repetition of character descriptions, that are in every book, although I did notice them slightly less in book six, Educating Jack. I could understand the explanations for new readers and even us regulars for two or perhaps three books, but with the back cover stating how many years Jack has been in Ragley, new readers will either start at the beginning or plunge in risking not knowing the characters well enough. Not that these are the deepest characters, there isn’t much in the way of development here. They are who they are and work to the rules that the author has set for them.
couple that with the diminishing number of pages as the series goes on and you could be mistaken for seeing all the duplications as filler, which is a shame as there is so much scope for the stories, which sometimes feel a bit rushed. And the same sort of jokes come into play often and they pepper the text, which sometimes, to me at least, seems that Jack is laughing at the locals rather than with them…
However not to end this review on a dampener, a book comes out once a year in January and a year is perhaps the right gap between reading the books, unless you want to view them like me. There is always the cliffhanger ending and the resolutions to the previous books finale to savour. These are good books on the whole just not as great as, for example, the James Herriot series of vet stories which were the bench mark for books of this ilk.