A fantastic and fun detective story filled with fabulous black and white cartoon-style illustrations: this book will make a reader out of the even the most reluctant child and adult.
Ten-year-old Rory Branagan isn’t just a normal kid. He’s a detective and he has a mystery to solve – why did his dad disappear when he was three? Rory doesn’t know where to start but, then, Cassidy moves in next door and he discovers he has an accomplice who is full of ideas. This is just as well as they soon discover a very serious crime: Corner Boy’s dad has been poisoned and is at risk of dying but no-one else will believe he’s in danger. It’s up to Rory and Cassidy to uncover the truth and save a life.
I’ve not come across a book like this before. It’s thick (352 pages) and heavy, giving the impression of an upper middle grade story. However, open it up and you find something that will be much less intimidating for less confident readers. The text is well spaced, in some cases only a few words to a page, and every page is accompanied by Ralph Lazar’s wonderful black and white cartoon style illustrations (including a puffer fish that has hair like Donald Trump!).
The pictures are a perfect complement to the text – so much so that it’s hard to believe that this is a team project rather than a single author / illustrator.
Rory’s first-person voice is clear and exactly right for the age. For example, I loved the way he describes how is mum turns into an evil witch when she catches him doing anything bad, like fighting or going into her room. I also enjoyed the way Rory’s mind sometimes wanders which leads to some wonderful asides (such as his imaginary creation of ‘Ratman’ who ‘climbs up drainpipes and steals your cheese’).
The plot is easy to follow and has a totally addictive page-turning storyline. When you’re reading it appears very simple but it is, in fact, incredibly clever. Indeed, it is only when you get to the end and analyse the structure that you really appreciate how carefully the clues have been seeded. I didn’t guess the identity of the person behind the poisoning until the reveal at the end which is very unusual for a book for this age range.
The case of the poisoning of Corner Boy’s dad is resolved by the end of the story but we’re left with a tantalising clue about the wider mystery of Rory’s dad: a clue that will compel us to read book 2. (Although the humour, plot and fun illustrations provide enough of an incentive to buy book 2 on their own.)
If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy reading other heavily illustrated stories for older children. Why not try The Brilliant World of Tom Gates by Liz Pichon or Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days by Jeff Kinney.
Date: March 2018
Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books
Website: Rory Branagan
Review first published on The Bookbag