This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 15.3.
Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction
Artemis Fowl meets Gordon Ramsey. Who’s own opinion—“Good fun”—adorns the cover of the first book, Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders (2010). I have to say, I like Neil Flambé a lot more than I like Artemis Fowl; but then, I have trained as a chef, not a criminal mastermind, and I understand Neil’s culinary obsessiveness. Nonetheless, what makes Neil Flambé more than just a spoilt, self-important boy-chef is Sylvester’s ability to reveal Neil’s humanity, even possibly humility, in times when such a response is most appropriate. Neil’s presentation as a fourteen-year-old boy who understands both his own greatness and the fallibility of his youth, coupled with the wisdom of his gentle-giant mentor Angel Jícama, the casual intelligence of his side-kick cousin Larry, and a plot that has sufficient twists and turns to engage the young reader, presents a recipe for success.
Sylvester’s clever use of tangential referents peppers both the narration and the characters’ comments; I particularly like the comment about the “dim-witted duo” having “returned from the trip down the eerie canal” (172), a reference distinctly pointed at the young Canadian reader. In keeping with the abundance of Canadiana embedded in its pages, Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction resembles Goethe’s “inhabited garden,” revealing the common humanity in characters from all nations and ethnicities. Sean Nakamura is indicative of the characters Sylvester gives us: a detective from Vancouver, with an Irish first name and a Japanese last name. Similarly, Neil’s girl friend has recently moved from Spain, and his mentor is an indigeno from southern Mexico. The ethics of multiculturalism extend to Neil’s experience of Mexico, and provide a learning experience for both character and reader: through his culinary respect for the poverty-stricken Margarita, who cooks exquisite home-style food for workers at a garbage dump, Neil learns that not only the rich deserve—or appreciate—fine cooking. Neil has no epiphany: he remains committed to his drive for fame and fortune, but his understanding of his relationship to his clientèle and his world has altered subtly.
Of the plot, I will say little, except that it is carefully constructed narrative recipe, containing a number of unexpected ingredients that keep the reader hungry for more. All in all, Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction is a fitting sequel to the excellent first volume in the series. Sylvester admitted during his visit to the Vancouver International Writers’ (and Readers’) Festival in October that he was hard at work on Neil #3. I, for one, cannot wait for the third course of this gripping narrative meal.