When I first saw this book I thought to myself, ‘oh goody, a new Diana Wynne Jones!’ (This was before the very sad news of her death reached my ears.) The reason for this mistake was that the cover’s artwork resembled the rebranding of DWJ’s back catalogue post Harry Potter. I don’t think the resemblance is a coincidence, as there is a whiff of DWJ in The Magical Detectives. Certainly two of the main characters – the lemon sherbet popping detective Maximillan Hawksmoor who investigates magical mysteries and the cynical talking cat Cornelius – could have made an appearance in her novels. The plot of The Magical Detectives, however, is not as complex as the ones DWJ devised in the Chrestomancy or Howl’s Moving Castle series. It is aimed at a younger audience (around 8-9 years old), and moves in a more traditional, yet very amiable, direction. Otto Spinoza comes home from school to discover that the bookshop his mother runs is closed, and there is no sign of her anywhere. Otto is aware that if he calls the police, his lack of other relatives may land him in a care home, so he enlists a magical detective instead. Enter Maximillan Hawksmoor with his spells and knowledge of parallel universes. A short investigation leads him to believe that Otto’s mother was kidnapped by creatures from such a universe, and together with Otto he sets off through a Janusian Portal to retrieve her. Unfortunately, Otto’s classmate, Juliet, and her aforementioned cat happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and so the expedition team gains two more members. Adventure, danger, and some humorous moments ensue, until the team finally finds their way back into our world. As mentioned earlier, the plot is a tad predictable, and there are a couple of holes that could have been better cemented, but this is the opener of a series, and the characters certainly have a good potential to launch themselves into deeper trouble in the next book. With a very engaging premise and some good protagonists, I hope Brian Keaney will come up with tasty twisty challenges in forthcoming sequel.
Recommended by Noga Applebaum