An encounter with an anti-gravity machine catapults Peter Schock and Kate Dyer back to the 18th century and sets in motion a calamitous chain of events. While a massive police hunt gets underway to find the missing children in the 21st century - in 1763 a hardened criminal, the Tar Man, steals the anti-gravity machine and disappears into the London underworld. Stranded in another time and forced to chase the Tar Man to his lair, Peter and Kate find a friend and guide in reformed cutpurse, Gideon Seymour. Gideon does every thing he can to help them, but will his dark past catch up with him before the machine is recovered?
Two 21st-century British children visiting a science lab disappear into thin air and turn up in the English countryside in 1763, where they are befriended by the title character, a reformed thief. The "anti-gravity machine" that inexplicably facilitates Kate and Peter's time travel is immediately stolen by a villainous character known as the "Tar Man," and a rather leisurely chase to retrieve it ensues. The narrative alternates between Gideon and the kids' 18th-century journey to London, which features numerous scrapes with murderous footpads and highwaymen, and present-day events involving much parental hand-wringing, a police investigation and a media frenzy. Debut author Buckley-Archer brings the England of King George III to life with ample (and often gruesome) period detail. (Served a slab of Stilton at a chop house, Peter notices "half a dozen weevils which shared the plate.") The characters, however, seem curiously flat. Kate is defined by her glossy red hair and, constrained by her period garb and convention, never gets to do much; Peter is even less distinct. The author constructs their relationship as antagonistic (they have only just met when the story opens), making for lots of petty bickering of the kind heard on a long car ride with squabbling siblings. Readers may find Gideon, having lost nine of 10 family members to scarlet fever, a sympathetic figure, but he is somewhat idealized. After a rather lengthy run-up, this first volume in a planned trilogy ends in a dramatic cliff-hanger. Ages 10-up.