The London Eye Mystery, by Siobhan Dowd, is a locked room mystery for kids, one with a more intriguing setting than most. Ted and his sister Kat live in London. Given a single free ticket by a stranger, they send their visiting cousin, Salim, for a ride on the London Eye. They watch him get on and follow the progress of the pod that he's riding in, as it makes the standard 30-minute revolution around the Eye. But when the pod comes back to earth, Salim doesn't get off, and is nowhere to be found. Ted and Kat spend the rest of the book trying, despite roadblocks put up by the adults in the story, to figure out what happened. This is a solid premise, one that had me pondering possible solutions throughout the books.
What makes The London Eye Mystery stand out is the perspective of the narrator, Ted. Ted has a "syndrome" (apparently, though not stated, Asperger's), by which his brain "runs on a different operating system from other people's." Not better, not worse, but different. Ted uses the strengths that come from his difference to help him think through the facts surrounding Salim's disappearance. I like the fact that his syndrome is not cosmetic. It's not tacked on to make the character interesting. His particular thought patterns are essential to the evolution of the story and the solution of the mystery.
Ted's voice is consistent throughout, and provides a clear window into what it's like to have his syndrome. For instance, he doesn't understand colloquialisms, and takes everything people say literally, which lends some humor. For example:
"'Well, shake a leg,' Dad said. ('Shake a leg' is Dad's favorite way of saying 'Hurry up', although if you tried to run and shake a leg at the same time, you would fall over.)" (Chapter Seventeen)
I like the deadpan humor in Ted's precise speech. "You would fall over."
Ted sees the people around him with a peculiar combination of clarity and bemusement. His insights come from his observations of their behavior, rather than from any general things impressions that he can pick about appearances. Here are a couple of examples regarding Kat:
"I think people just look like who they are. I suppose I am ugly because nobody has ever said I am handsome. People are always saying how pretty Kat is so I suppose she is. To me, she just looks like Kat." (Chapter Four)
"Predicting what Kat is going to do next makes predicting the weather seem easier than counting to three. Kat is not only more unpredictable than the weather, she is also more unpredictable than a) volcanic eruptions or b) lunatics or c) terrorist attacks." (Chapter Ten)
"Then Kat did something brave. She made a pot of tea, even though her hands were shaking. That's Kat. Horrible about small problems, like missing a bus, or being 10 pence short for the CD she wants, but good about the big problems, like when Mum had a big operation the year before." (Chapter Fifteen)
This book will draw inevitable comparisons to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon. The quirks to the two characters' syndromes bear obvious parallels. I think that The London Eye Mystery is the better book of the two because a) it has an actual, tension-building plot; b) the London setting is intriguing, detailed, and integral to the story; and c) it's not all about Ted -- Kat and Salim are both compelling, three-dimensional characters, too.
I recommend The London Eye Mystery for elementary school age mystery buffs, boys and girls, as well as for kids who have any kind of learning difference. The message that Siobhan Dowd conveys, with a very light hand, is that being different isn't necessarily bad. Differences in thinking can even turn into assets, depending upon the circumstances. Being able to get this across while keeping kids engrossed in the mystery took real talent on Dowd's part. It's tragic that she won't be writing any more books (she died in August).
Publisher: David Fickling Books
U.S. Publication Date: February 12, 2008 (already available in the UK)
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes above are from the ARC, and may not reflect the final version.
Author Information: Siobhan Dowd passed away in August. She was only 47 and would, I imagine, have written many other wonderful books.
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.