Let me be very clear, I LOVED this week’s Operation Story Share book. However, in my humble opinion, Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders by Kevin Sylvester is definitely only for older middle-grade readers.
Check it out:
Fourteen-year-old wunderchef Neil Flambé can cook anything, and patrons pay top dollar and wait months for reservations at his tiny boutique restaurant. What many of Neil’s patrons don’t know, however, is that he’s also a budding detective, code-named “The Nose.” It all started when he used his knowledge of cooking and his incredible sense of smell to acquit his mother’s client of murder. Now, however, some of the best chefs in town are turning up dead, the cops are stumped, and the crime scenes aren’t helping. The only real clues are a mysterious smell and some equally mysterious notes — in Italian! — that have something to do with the great explorer Marco Polo. As more and more chefs fall prey to the killer, and more and more notes turn up, Neil finds himself working not only to solve the murders, but to eliminate himself as the prime suspect!
On the plus side, Neil Flambé is obnoxiously cocky. The dialogue is snappy and the story moves right along. The mystery keeps you guessing and the cooking details are well done. (Ha! Get it?—Well done? I’m almost as funny as Mr. Sylvester!)
But you should also know that although the deaths take place off stage, this is a murder mystery and the final confrontation with the killer involves Neil and another character being shot. That violence is why I wouldn’t recommend this book to a younger reader.
I was also a bit put off by the first part of the two-part prologue. The Marco Polo backstory read like a dusty old history lesson compared to the lively pace of rest of the book. It would be too bad if this first impression made anyone put it down.
That said, I think older middle-grade readers will love Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders by Kevin Sylvester as much as I did. And lucky for all us Neil fans, there are more books in the series!