Young Detectives: D is for Dowd
It turns out that "R" really does stand for Restoration: writing that open letter to Ellen Raskin last month was the kick in the seat which the Young Detectives reading project has long needed. I think I may actually be able to get through the rest of the alphabet now--and yes, I'm confident enough to say that and not think that I'm jinxing myself with "famous last words." =)
Incidentally, do you know how long it has been since I last did any work on this post? My hair is still permed in the accompanying photo: that's how long. (Not that you can really appreciate it: the lighting isn't that great.)
Dear Siobhan Dowd,
Please forgive me for taking so long to write to you about your novel The London Eye Mystery! I read it for my Young Detectives reading project over a year ago, and I enjoyed it very much. There's nothing like a London setting to make a life-long Anglophile happy! It was just more challenging than I expected to write about your boy detective Ted . . . because I kept trying to write about him alone.
You must admit that isolation seems to be the obvious strategy when dealing with someone like Ted. Ordinarily, when someone's brain "runs on a completely different operating system" from the rest of ours, we put him in a special school, send him to a special doctor, and treat him in a special way. And we may not see how hard he tries to fit in and to express himself in ways we neurotypicals will understand. Even Ted's own family slip up here, either failing to listen to his theories about his cousin's disappearance or thinking he will be useless at more practical detective work. This is partly why the case takes so long to be solved. In this and in many other ways, your novel drives home the message that what is obvious is not always what is true.
The real key to our detective's character is his cousin Salim's observation that while Ted's family "talk all South Londony," Ted himself "sounds like the BBC"--a curious fact, Ted's mother adds, which even the neurologist can't explain! Meanwhile, Salim, who is half Pakistani, has the northern accent of Manchester. They all may all speak differently, but they speak the same language. And when the extended family come together, they make an interesting portrait of modern England-- a little like one of those souvenir snapshots you can get inside the pods of the London Eye. (Oh! Now I see what you did there . . .)
Behind the mystery of how someone can board the London Eye and never come out is the reality that we often do not see what is right in front of our faces. And the greater social consequences of this include the marginalisation of a boy with special challenges and the snubbing of a blighted urban borough. I had to do some research on Peckham, where Ted's family live, before I really got why you chose to set your story here, instead of some other neighbourhood which can be seen from the Eye. Of all London's districts, it is probably the one which most needs to be seen--not in the way that damns it, but in the way that saves it.
I hope that The London Eye Mystery will open many young Londoners' eyes to people and places which have been before them all this time.