Tuesday 17 January 2012

Review: Casper Candlewacks in the Claws of Crime by Ivan Brett

Most villages have an idiot but Casper's village is full of them. So being bright makes poor Casper something of an outsider.

An infamous cat burglar has struck in the village of Corne-on-the-Kobb, stealing a precious jewelled sword and kidnapping Casper’s baby sister. To make matters worse a gaggle of amateur detectives are on the case, questioning the villagers and getting in the way. Armed only with his wits, an egg-boiling lie-detecting machine and his best friend Lamp, can Casper rescue his sister and save the day?

Casper Candlewacks in Death By Pigeon was one of my favourite books of 2011. At the time of reading I had been going through a case of the much dreaded blogger burnout, struggling to get into many of the books I was being sent by publishers, and it was Ivan Brett's hilarious d├ębut that cured me. At the time I suggested that it should come with a health warning: if read at bedtime make sure plastic bed sheets are fitted as your child will laugh so much a little bit of wee may come out. Now the sequel, Casper Candlewacks in the Claws of Crime, has finally hit the books stores and please believe me when I say that you had better get those plastic sheets back out of storage and back on to those beds.

In this second episode in the life of the only non-stupid person in the superbly named village of Corne-on-the-Kobb, Casper and his inventor friend Lamp have to play detective. Infamous cat burglar, Le Chat, is in town and he has stolen the village's prize ancient artefact - the priceless bejewelled sword of Sir Gossamer D'Glaze. The mayor of C-o-t-K has offered a £20,000 reward for whoever captures the burglar and retrieves said sword, and with Julius Candlewacks needing exactly that amount of money to re-establish his restaurant, his son sees it as his duty to solve the crime. Of course, every one of the idiotic villagers also want to get their hands on the reward money, as do a horde of amateur detectives who descend on the village (although fortunately for Casper they are almost as stupid as his fellow villagers).

In the process of trying to catch the criminal, Casper's baby sister Cuddles is kidnapped by Le Chat, who leaves a note for the villagers to say that he will only release her if they guarantee safe passage out of the village. Of course, most of the villagers have at some point been on the receiving end of a bite from the somewhat vicious baby, and they are less than sympathetic, leaving it to Casper and Lamp to retrieve the sword, rescue the baby, capture the thief and save the world day. Added to the mix is the new girl in the village, Daisy Blossom, who has a big effect on both Casper and Lamp. With the aid of Lamp's latest invention, a bizarre lie-detecting machine christened The Bluff Boiler, the duo turned trio begin their sleuthing - what is the identity of the mysterious Le Chat?

There are a number of authors who seem to be vying for the title of "The New Roald Dahl" and based on the evidence so far I would suggest that Ivan Brett is in with a great shout. His characters are a delight to read, both main and secondary and his word-play is sublime. The closest contender for the crown would probably be Andy Stanton, although on reflection I think I prefer the silliness of Brett's Casper Candlewacks books to the over-the-top anarchy of the Mr Gum books. As far as laughs go, I think there is only one other book I have read in the past six months that made me laugh as much as the Casper Candlewacks books, and that was an unpublished book written by a friend of mine.

Casper Candlewacks in the Claws of Crime is a must-read book for any 7+ child who loves a good laugh, and it is perfect for bedtime reading by a parent as well. Although the second in a series it is fine to be read as a stand-alone book, but you are definitely missing out if you don't at some point get your hands on a copy of Death By Pigeon as well. What's more, it llooks as if we only have to wait until April for the next silly adventure, Casper Candlewacks in the Attack of the Brainiacs! My thanks go to the good people at HarperCollins for sending me a copy to review.

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