There’s a tension on the grim streets of Peligan City where the long-running newspaper which had become increasingly critical of City Hall and Mayor Tantalus Dean was summarily closed and replaced with a less outspoken substitute, a blind eye turned to any stories which don’t fit the convenient narrative such as the rash of fire deaths sweeping the city.
Fortunately for budding journalist Lil Potkin there is an alternative voice of dissent, the underground newssheet The Klaxon, dedicated to the truth at any cost, and it is Lil’s ambition to one day write for them if only she can find a story worthy of their interest and determine how to submit it to their secret offices.
Looking for leads, Lil stumbles across one almost without realising it at the Paradise Street All-Night Bus Station, the boy so pale as to be almost transparent, ignored by all the adults, so accustomed to being overlooked that when Lil talks to him his first reaction is a surprise which she matches when he asks her to look into a missing persons case – his own.
In another life his name was Ned Stubbs, missing from Hawks Memorial Orphanage for over a year with the investigator assigned, former police detective Absolom “Abe” Mandrel, never having progressed any leads and moved onto other work. Tracking Abe down, Lil insists that he reopens the case, but how can she persuade him when she is the only one who can even see Nedly?
First in a new children’s trilogy by Sophie Green, Potkin and Stubbs is a spooky and atmospheric trawl through the streets of Peligan City, perhaps less fantastical than the similarly borderline dystopian urban settings of China Miéville but carrying some of the feeling of both Perdido Street Station and The City & The City, though by far the longest shadow cast is that of classic noir fiction, a style carried over into K J Mountford’s deeply shaded illustrations.
A swift and easy read, Lil is good company and despite Abe’s reticence to become involved – especially with a wannabe child reporter apparently given to dubious flights of fancy – he is a reassuring presence by her side as the smoking trail takes them from City Hall to the burn-out shell that once bore the name Rorschach Asylum.
Introduced by a map which conveys the shape of Peligan City if not the scale, Green’s prose is vivid and evocative, full of movement, colour and murky shade without being too complex for the target age group, but parents might want to be aware that along with the excitement there are moments when Abe is unable to protect Lil as well as he might like in a world which is filled with more danger than either of them anticipated.
The capable and determined Lil older than her years, she forms an unconventional friendship with both Nedly and Abe for whom she acts as go-between as they pursue the case which, although ultimately resolved, has only scratched the surface of what is going on around them; fortunately the second Potkin and Stubbs adventure is due this September when the team will investigate The Haunting of Peligan City.
Potkin and Stubbs is available from 7th March from Picadilly Press