Neil Flambe and the Marco Polo Murders by Kevin Sylvester
This book is recommended for advanced readers in sixth grade and up Genre: Mystery
Book Summary: Neil Flambe is a world-famous chef. He's also fourteen, with a major attitude and a keen sense of smell. His busy working parents are more inclined to eat macaroni and cheese or hot dogs than any of Neil's delicacies, and Neil isn't so great at making friends, either. However, he does occasionally help out the local police with tricky cases, thanks to his amazing nose. This particular case gets personal, since someone is killing chefs all over town.
Book Review: This is a clever story that may not have a wide audience, but it is likely to be a favorite with some readers. It's hard to like Neil, which is oddly what makes you like Neil. While the detailed references to food reveal Neil's obsession (and the author's expertise) with his career, the vocabulary is challenging and some readers might not have much prior knowledge about this topic. There just aren't a plethora of middle schoolers running around making references to pate crepes and imported whitefish. That said, the book may inspire readers to explore cooking, and the mystery can still appeal to those who are more McNugget by nature.
The historical legends related to Marco Polo complicate the story a bit further, and Sylvester creates so many enemies for Neil that he keeps you guessing. Neil shares more than a few traits with Artemis Fowl, but where Colfer's character has magic and more action, Neil's story has more history and realism. If anyone is concerned about references to violence, Neil goes with the inspector to investigate crime scenes (the chefs are being poisoned), and there is some shooting at the end, but the violence isn't graphic.
Also by this Toronto-based author: Neil Flambe and the Aztec Abduction
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