It’s Saturday, and it’s a wonderfully sunny day, and I’m feeling mellow. It’s the perfect day to write about some of the books I’ve read recently, I think. I haven’t managed to read as many as I’d like, but every word read is better than nothing, of course.
The other day, I read ‘The London Eye Mystery’ by the wonderful, and much missed, Siobhan Dowd. Her early death in 2007 truly robbed the world of children’s literature of one of its most talented writers. I’ve read and loved her other books (‘A Swift Pure Cry’ and ‘Bog Child’), and also ‘A Monster Calls’, written by Patrick Ness, based on an idea which Ms. Dowd had developed just before her death. I bought this latter book in hardback the second it was published, because I couldn’t possibly expect myself to wait for the paperback, and I’m so glad I made that decision. As well as being an amazing piece of writing, the book itself is a work of art.I thoroughly recommend all of Siobhan Dowd’s books, and perhaps I’ll come back to talk about them all in a future blog post.
‘The London Eye Mystery’ was a wonderful piece of storytelling. It introduces us to Ted and his sister Kat, who live in London with their parents. Kat is older than Ted, and tends to be bossy and sarcastic (as older sisters are – I am one, so I know!), but underneath all that she cares deeply about her brother and when he needs her, she’s behind him all the way. Ted, a young boy obsessed with the weather, who wants to be a meteorologist when he grows up and who listens to the shipping forecast on the radio at night when he can’t sleep, is a deeply engaging character. He is compulsive, he has rituals and routines, he thinks extremely logically, he (touchingly) describes how he can’t read facial expressions and how he struggles to understand body language and non-direct speech, and throughout he mentions his ‘syndrome’ without ever telling us exactly what it is. Of course, we don’t need to know exactly what it is; Ted is Ted, and I loved him just as he is. The family is depicted realistically, with all the stresses and strains that come with modern living; they love one another and are closely united, but their home is not always tranquil. The London in which they live is no idealised wonderland, either – the author shows us, in a clear but age-appropriate way, the issues of poverty, drug abuse, mental illness and crime that blight any big city, and in fact these themes have a central (if, perhaps, oblique) role to play in the book.
The story begins with Ted and Kat’s aunt Gloria, and her son Salim, coming to stay with the family for a few days before they emigrate to New York for Aunt Gloria’s work. Salim, who has grown up in Manchester and who has a fascination with tall buildings, has never ridden on the London Eye before, and so the family decide to bring him there to give him that opportunity. All the way through the trip to the Eye, Ted notices things that he thinks are strange, including the frequency of the phone calls Salim receives, and the secrecy with which he conducts his conversations, but he’s not sure what it all means. While the children are in the queue to buy tickets for the London Eye, they’re approached by a man who offers them one free ticket, and they decide Salim should have it. So, at just after 11.30 a.m. Salim boards the London Eye – but he doesn’t get off when the ride is over.
Using photographs, deduction and Ted’s brilliantly logical thinking, the children try to work out what happened to Salim. Ted comes up with eight (later, nine) theories, which they systematically work through, discounting them one at a time after experimentation has shown them to be false. Ted quotes Sherlock Holmes at one point: if, when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth; using this logic, he eventually works out what must have happened. The author skilfully throws us a few ‘red herrings’, and even near the end when it seems as though the mystery has been unravelled, it takes Ted and another inspired leap of logic to finally bring the story to a close. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, despite the fact that I’d worked out where Salim was before it was unveiled. Despite this, I would never have worked out how he managed to go up the London Eye and not come down again – Ted left me in the shade on that score! The means Ted uses to find his cousin, the insights into his thinking process, the descriptions of the family and their interactions – particularly between Gloria and her sister Faith, who is the mother of Kat and Ted – and the growing sense of desperation as time keeps ticking by without Salim being found, mean this is a tense, tightly plotted, dynamic and exciting story with a deep emotional heart. So, it’s just like all of Dowd’s work, really. If you’ve never read Siobhan Dowd, I think you really should. Not only are the stories excellent, but the royalties from sales go towards the Siobhan Dowd Trust, which she set up in the months before her death to aid literacy among underprivileged children. What could be more meaningful than that?
So, typically, I’ve gone on so long that I have no room left to talk about the other books I’ve recently read: ‘Wildwood’ (Colin Meloy, ill. Carson Ellis), ‘Crewel’ (Gennifer Albin), ‘Level 2’ (Lenore Appelhans), ‘The Wormwood Gate’ (Katherine Farmar), and the one I’m currently reading, ‘Robopocalypse’ (Daniel H. Wilson). Thoughts on those will have to wait for another blog post!
Have a great Saturday.