Book: Knightley & Son: Cracking the Code
Author: Rohan Gavin
Age Range: 10-12
Cracking the Code is the first book in the new Knightley & Son series by Rohan Gavin. It features a father and son team of detectives. As the story begins, Alan Knightley, a once successful London private investigator, has been in a pseudo-coma for four years. His son Darkus has spent the four years reviewing and memorizing his father's old cases, and internalizing Sherlock Holmes-like methods of analytical detection. When Alan wakes from his extended sleep, Darkus finds himself drawn in to the investigation of a shadowy conspiracy involving people who commit peculiar crimes after reading a self-help bestseller.
Cracking the Code is dark in tone, though occasionally humorous. Although this is strictly true, it feels looking back like the entire book takes place at night, on dark London streets. There are supernatural overtones, though the question of whether anything supernatural has actually occurred is skillfully left murky. There are also sufficient private eye novel trappings to make readers feel grown up, though the story is appropriate for middle schoolers.
The characters in Knightley & Son are unconventional and just a hint larger than life. Darkus is an unabashed geek, who says things like this:
"So I conclude that the only possibility is that you were in fact the culprit, Clive--by accident of misadventure, of course. And I will hazard a guess that if you measure the zipper on your fashionable new coat, in all probability you'll find it's approximately one yard from the ground." (Chapter 3: The Case of the Scratched Quarter Panel)
You can definitely hear him channeling Sherlock Holmes (and his father, for that matter). Fortunately, Darkus's stepsister, Tilly, adds a more emotional component to their eventual investigative team, as well as much cooler hair.
The humor in the book tends to be understated, as when a colleague of Alan's stops unexpectedly by the home where Darkus lives with his mother, stepfather, and Tilly. As he leaves he says:
"Thank ye for the tea, and the rather disappointing snacks." (Chapter 4: Uncle BIll)
My one problem with this book concerned the viewpoint. I suppose it's omniscient third person perspective, but there's a lot of "Darkus felt ..." and "Alan thought..." So it's more like limited third person, but with shifts in viewpoint from paragraph to paragraph. I found it occasionally distracting - it took me out of the story. (Note: I was reading the advanced copy, so this could theoretically be changed in the final book.) Like this:
"Draycott thought carefully about how to word this last piece of testimony. As he returned to scribbling, Tilly brushed by indifferently..."
And then the viewpoint shifts to Tilly. It's like in a movie, where you follow one character, and then another, but there are intermittent glimpses of people's inner monologues, too.
Apart from that concern, I did enjoy Cracking the Code. The plot is suspenseful. There are various pieces to mull over and assemble, throughout the book. The kids are granted a fair bit of leeway to do things on their own, in a reasonably plausible manner. There are some interesting gadgets, and intelligence is definitely prized and rewarded.
I think that Cracking the Code will be a good fit for fans of the Young James Bond series by Charlie Higson (though Darkus is more analytical than James). It should also be a good bridge book for middle schoolers prior to reading adult mysteries, including the Sherlock Holmes stories. As for me, I look forward to hearing what Alan, Darkus, and Tilly get up to next. Recommended for age 10 and up, boys or girls.
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books (@BWKids)
Publication Date: March 4, 2014
Source of Book: Advance Review copy from the publisher
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