Sunday, September 20, 2015

Leon Chameleon PI and the Case of the Missing Canary Eggs by Jan Hurst-Nicholson

Rating: WORTHY!

Not to be confused with Leon the Chameleon by Mélanie Watt, which I haven't read, but which is evidently a young children's story about misfits and acceptance, this is a series for somewhat older children about a different chameleon coincidentally named Leon, and who is a private investigator just like his great uncle was. Jan Hurst-Nicholson is the author of Bheki and the Magic Light which I reviewed favorably back in April 2015, as I also did her young children's fiction about a left-handed girl, The Race. I also review the second book in this series on my blog.

But back to the review in progress. Leon lives in an African forest and tries to help out various animal victims of criminal activity such as egg-napping and human abduction of forest critters. He never seems to get paid, which is par for the course for lowly PIs! He does, however, get all his food and lodging free from the forest, and he doesn't own a car, so his expenses are minimal....

This book was first published in 1993, and re-released as an ebook in 2009. It's amusingly and competently illustrated by Barbara McGuire, and this first book introduces us to the forest, to Leon, and to the local police (the Pigeon Valley Police), consisting of Constable Mole, Sergeant Loerie, and Lieutenant Crow, as well as a host of other forest creatures of all stripes, dapples, brindling, spots, and whatever. Mrs Canary left her nest for only the briefest of times, yet when she returned, her three eggs were missing! Obviously someone poached them and no one is singing! It's time to scramble the police! Call out the frying squad. No, it's actually the flying squad!

I don't know if they really have a flying squad in police departments in South Africa, where the author lives, but she grew up in Britain, so maybe she's conflating. I don't know, but either way, it's funny. In Britain, the flying squad, through rhyming slang, was known as the Sweeney, from Sweeney Todd, and was a huge hit show in Britain many years back. But I digress!

So, with eggs missing and the police struggling, Leon leaps, well quivers, to the rescue, the long tongue of the law, using his keen mind and his swiveling eyes which, to paraphrase Joseph Heller, could see more things than most people, but none of them too clearly! Nevertheless, paying close attention to the clues, Leon soon has it all figured out, and as the police run down one useless 'lead' after another, Leon closes in on the likely suspects despite some rather unfair disparagement from the law.

The best thing about his novel apart from its sense of humor and the beautiful way it's written, is the sneaky way the author slips in educational material about the animals who appear as characters. This is the way a really good children's novel ought to be done, but rarely is. I recommend this completely.

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