This is a wonderfully entertaining MG crime caper with a perfectly realised film noir feel and a liberal dose of sly humour. It’s one of those books that adult readers will gain as much enjoyment from as their young audience.
Anyone who has ever watched an old black and white private detective film will immediately recognise the familiar tropes outlined on the first page; a detective with his feet up on the desk of his unkempt office with smoke unfurling from his nostrils. Turn the page and you discover that Dirk Dilly has actually exhaled that smoke because he is a dragon! To be precise: an urban-dwelling, green-bellied, red-backed mountain dragon.
Business is clearly less than brisk, so, uncharacteristically Dirk agrees to take on a case from 11 year-old Holly Bigsby whose cat Willow has gone missing. As Dirk begins his investigations he realises that the case is far greater than just one missing cat and involves a dastardly plan to wipe out more than just the feline population.
There are so many enjoyable aspects to this story:
- The relationship that develops between friendless Holly Bigsby and outwardly cynical but soft on the inside, Dirk.
- The snortingly-hilarious interaction between crooks Arthur Holt “ the brains” and Reg Norman “the muscle”. The pseudo-intellectual explanatory excuses invented by Arthur of his medical reasons for never being able to help out with the dirty work will have you honking with laughter! “I am unable to participate in any physical activity on account of a rare condition that I concocted in Africa. That is why I am the brains.” being just one example.
- The seamless blending of a dragon detective, who only occassionally disguises himself with a raincoat and hat, with everyday life in modern London. Dirk is able to get around unseen by hopping across the rooftops because Londoners never look up from their screens, and if they do they just end up squabbling with each other rather than focussing on the observation of a mythical creature.
- The sibling rivalry demonstrated by the dragon brothers, Leon and Mali, in the Kinghorns gang mirroring the behaviour of the human crooks.
- Finally, Dirk’s landlady Mrs Klingerflim “blind as a bat. And madder than a badger”, taking over the mantle of top fictional landlady from Mrs Hudson of 221b Baker Street.
With its short chapters, a plot that crackles with snappy dialogue and fast-moving action, and imaginatively constructed characters I think this book will appeal equally to boys and girls of 8 years plus. Both human and dragon characters come alive in a tale laced with humour and heart and interesting questions are raised about the identity of the real villains; megalomaniac dragons or neglectful, ambitious, political parents!