A detective story with a twist, this is an exciting and original story that will appeal equally to boys and girls and – if I’m anything to go by – to any adult who loves a cracking story. Prepare for the Battle of the Beetles!
Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017: Younger Fiction
Longlisted for the 2017 CILIP Carnegie Medal
When Darkus’s dad disappears from a locked room in the Natural History Museum, everyone’s desperate to discover what happened. However, when no clues are found, the police and the newspapers rapidly lose interest and Darkus is left to solve the mystery. Luckily, he has some very special friends to help him. This is a detective story with a twist: Darkus’s quest to find his dad is supported not only by his two best friends – Bertolt and Virginia – but also his new pet beetle, Baxter. And Baxter is no ordinary beetle. Baxter is huge (the size of a hamster), has the intelligence of a human, and several hundred friends hiding next door just waiting for the call to action.
As a reader we immediately warm to Darkus who – despite losing both parents, spending time in a truly horrible foster home and facing the bullies at school – doesn’t complain. Instead he focuses on finding his dad and saving the beetles in the house next door. We also can’t help but smile when we meet Uncle Max with his eccentric habits, no nonsense attitude and his mint-green Renault 4.
The other characters are equally well drawn with, maybe, the exception of Pickering and Humphrey next door. One thin, one fat. One clean and one a totally slob, Pickering and Humphrey are almost Roald Dahl style caricatures. This is not, however, a criticism as it’s immediately obvious that this is the deliberate choice of a very talented author.
The character who stands out the most, however, is the evil antagonist, Lucretia Cutter. A modern Cruella De Vil – only with beetles rather than Dalmatians – she is the character that every young reader is going to love to hate. The next book in the series will be entitled ‘Beetle Queen’ and I’m already crossing my fingers that the name is a reference to Lucretia: I simply can’t wait to find out more about her schemes for the genetically modified and highly intelligent beetles.
Full of pace and action this is a difficult book to put down – although I did find myself briefly unable to read on when it seemed that Baxter was about to be captured by Lucretia Cutter. A few deep breaths later and with shaking hands, however, I had to return to find out what happened next, praying that Baxter would somehow escape.
No spoilers here so I’ll just say the rest of the plot didn’t disappoint and I particularly enjoyed the climax with the battle of the beetles.
In children’s books it’s normal for most adults – other than the evil antagonists – to be marginalised. It was, therefore, great to find Darkus and his Uncle Max working together in their final rescue attempt. (Although, of course, implementing a plan that Darkus, Bertolt and Virginia have formulated).
This is a difficult book to classify as I haven’t read anything quite like it. The story is likely to appeal equally to boys and girls and – if I’m anything to go by – to any adult who loves a cracking story. I’m not at all surprised this book is being published by the man who is acknowledged to have introduced the world to Harry Potter: maybe, just maybe, M G Leonard will be the next J K Rowling.
So if you enjoyed this, and haven’t already read Harry’s adventures, I’d suggest you read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J K Rowling.
Publication date: March 2016
Publisher: Chicken House
Author: M G Leonard
Review first published on The Bookbag