Young readers have never had it so good. Nowadays there are countless great authors writing for teenagers, or young adults, and on the evidence of his first novel Rohan Gavin is a brilliant new addition to the ranks.
Knightley & Son is a fast-paced, drily witty detective story drawing upon a range of well-used themes to build something genuinely greater than the sum of its parts. Darkus Knightley is a thirteen-year-old with an unusual penchant for tweed, jam sandwiches cut into triangles (not squares) and working through the old case notes of his coma-bound detective father. He’s also got the brainpower and observation skills of a young Sherlock Holmes, which comes in handy in his investigations. Over the course of the novel he comes into contact with a best-selling self-help book that’s suspiciously similar to The Secret (published in 2006 while I was working for Borders…prompting much head shaking from most sensible folk) and a clandestine organisation known only as The Combination (think SPECTRE, from classic Bond stories), meets more than one shady figure from his family’s past, and teams up with both his his exceedingly cool step-sister and his newly-woken father to get to the bottom of things.
If it all sounds rather familiar, well…it is. Somehow it all fits together really well though, with largely well-drawn characters and a fast-paced style that keeps the reader’s interest and keeps the story moving right up until the end. A big part of the charm is definitely Darkus, who is equal parts Artemis Fowl, Sherlock Holmes (think BBC’s Sherlock) and every quiet young boy who doesn’t fit in at school. Clearly affected by the break up of his parents’ relationship and his father’s subsequent fall into coma, he’s a strangely believable mixture of grown-up confidence and childlike innocence, which must surely resonate with the majority of young readers in much the same way that it does for older but still young-at-heart readers.
Yes, there are some clichés in there that could have come ready made and been dropped fully formed into the novel – there’s a wince-inducing death for a throwaway baddie that’s got to be one of the most often-used sticky ends, and a teacher with more than a hint of Q about her…but none of these things matter. What matters is that, in the vein of so many great books for younger readers, it’s simply a brilliant story, and one that’s crying out for another episode. Thankfully, just like at the end of all those great Bond films, we’re reassured on the final page that Knightley & Son will return… here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later.