Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Key Porter Books; 1st edition edition (Feb 18 2010)
Neil Flambé is a fourteen-year-old wunderchef. He can cook anything, and he brags that he can cook it better than anyone else. He`s cocky, but he may also be right. Patrons pay top dollar and wait months for reservations at his tiny, boutique restaurant. What many of Neil’s patrons don’t know is that he’s also a budding detective. It all started when he used his knowledge of cooking and his incredible sense of smell to acquit his mother’s client of murder. Ever since, Police Inspector Sean Nakamura has relied on Neil to help him crack case after case. Now, the city’s crime scene has taken a turn for the personal. Some of the best chefs in town are turning up dead. The cops are stumped; the only real clues are a mysterious smell and some equally mysterious notes that seem to have something to do with Marco Polo. As more chefs fall prey to the killer, Neil finds himself working not only to solve the murders, but to eliminate himself as the prime suspect!
This story starts off with the impending death of Marco Polo and a secret he shared with only one other person. This secret becomes the underlying story to the deaths that surround our young protagonist, Neil Flambe.
What I enjoyed in this book was the historical references to Marco Polo's journeys and his dealings with Kublai Khan. While I have heard of these two figures ("In Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree..."), I had no deeper knowledge than basically their names and the begininning of the famous poem. Kevin Sylvester takes a cute book, intended for young readers, and spins in some history and learning (just don't tell the kids!)
The chapters were about 4 pages long; the story was fast paced and fun (except for the poor murder victims, but it is fiction, right?) This is a book I will give to my daughter to read in a year or two (when she's 9 or 10.)
There are parts of this book that are a little far-fetched. Neil, the 14 year-old wunder-chef and his abilities as a "nez", sniffing out the clues, may be unrealistic, but it was still enjoyable. I must say though, if Neil was my son, he'd have been grounded through much of the book for his bad (superior to everyone) attitude!
It is evident Kevin Sylvester knows his way around a spice rack, or at least, has done some yummy research. Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders is chock full of edible alliteration (and other culinary references) with a dash of history and mystery; this makes a recipe for one fun, entertaining read! I look forward to seeing what adventures Neil Flambe has in store for us next!