Darkus Knightly is not your average 13 year old. Not just because he's got an odd name, either. With his fondness for tweed, tidiness and intellectual pursuits, he stands out a bit from the crowd. His father, the renowned detective Alan Darkus (specialising in unusual cases) has been in a mysterious, medically inexplicable coma for the last four years. His mother has remarried to the fashion disaster presenter of a Top-Gear knock off, and his relationship with his step sister Tilly is a bit complicated to say the least. Like I said, not very average.
His father's absence has strengthened Darkus' resolve to follow in his detectively footsteps, to utilise the deductive skills he appears to have inherited and find out what happened to his dad. He trawls through his father's case notes each night, desperately looking for clues or leads, the answer that will bring him back. Cue the sudden appearance of 'Uncle Bill' an enormous Scot, who may not technically be related...but he's here to tell Darkus that his father has woken up as suddenly as he drifted off and has done a runner from the hospital.
Reunited, father and son have a bit of a shaky start- Alan is not convinced that Darkus is up to the task of assisting him. Plus it's a dangerous business, and he doesn't want Darkus to get hurt. Faced with the inescapable talent that his son possesses for crime solving, he finally has to admit that Darkus would be an asset to his quest. Together they continue the search for 'The Combination' a mythical crime syndicate that Alan has committed his professional life to exposing, much to the derision of his peers. Convinced they are responsible for all unexplained crime the world over, he is determined to prove their existence and their guilt. Elsewhere, a bestselling self-help book appears to be inciting otherwise law abiding citizens to engage in an inexplicable crime spree...could this be the work of the Combination too?
An exciting mystery story that twists and turns, letting the reader piece the puzzle together as the story rolls along. I know a lot of the year 7s and 8s at my school are big Sherlock fans, and are really into complex mystery stories, so this novel is going to have a great deal of appeal. Like the city in which it is set, the story strikes an unusual balance between the old and the new, wedging itself in the middle. Some elements, such as the suggestion of hypnosis, shadowy crime circles and the dialogue of Darkus and his father feel quite old fashioned, whilst the setting is distinctly modern. Like the Kinghtleys themselves, it spans the times.
I was really impressed by the characters in this story. Both Tilly and Darkus are driven by their own reasons for wanting to expose the crimes of the Combination. Each of them carries enough intrigue to be interesting, enough back story to be mysterious and to make the reader understand their behaviour, and best of all both are really easy to relate to. I love how much of an oddball Darkus is. He's not cool, he's not popular, but he's not bothered. He's insanely clever, wears three piece suits and insists on triangles not squares when it comes to sandwiches, which is better than being normal any day. I think his uniqueness is going to strike a chord with a lot of readers. Same for the character of Tilly. Her rainbow hair disguises how quiet and reserved she is, still suffering from the loss of her mother. Throwing herself in with Darkus and his dad gives her a chance to find closure and explore her own personality and strengths a little more. I look forward to seeing how she develops in later books.
What I think is really elevates this book over other children's mysteries is the emphasis that the author places on the father son relationship. It really is absolutely key to the novel. The story makes it clear that Darkus has spent much of his childhood without his father's (wakeful) presence, and even so, he has become exactly like him, whether by accident or design. He dresses, speaks and acts like him. It's something that feels important to a good father/son team, the desire of the son to be like his dad. I loved how as they got to know each other better, each realised just how alike they were. It was a joy to see how their relationship developed after such a long and traumatic break and how Alan had to learn to see Darkus as a fully functioning detective, rather than just 'My Son'.
There were a few instances where I thought it borrowed a little too much from ACD's Sherlock Holmes, and in cases the BBC version, but I don't think the readership will mind. It's a fast paced, action packed story about families and truth and it's going to be massive.