Monday 20 May 2019

Skulduggery that's worth a cool £1.8m!

Until his headline grabbing contract with HarperCollins in the UK, Derek Landy was a cauliflower worker on his parents' vegetable farm in Lusk, North Co Dublin and an occasional screen writer (he wrote Boy Eats Girl, a teenage zombie flick, starring Samantha Mumba, which sank without trace). Now with his first book, he has become one of Ireland's richest children's writers,

SKULDUGGERY PLEASANT

By Derek Landy

HarperCollins, ?12.99 SARAH WEBB

Until his headline grabbing contract with HarperCollins in the UK, Derek Landy was a cauliflower worker on his parents' vegetable farm in Lusk, North Co Dublin and an occasional screen writer (he wrote Boy Eats Girl, a teenage zombie flick, starring Samantha Mumba, which sank without trace). Now with his first book, he has become one of Ireland's richest children's writers, on a par with Eoin Colfer and Darren Shan.

His good fortune generated huge publicity a few months back. So now that the book has arrived, it's hard to read Skulduggery Pleasant, his fantasy adventure novel, without wondering is it worthy of all the hype. The book features a wise-cracking dead magician called Skulduggery Pleasant and his assistant, Stephanie, a 12-year-old girl who is the only one who can see him. Is the skeleton detective romp for children worth the reputed ?1.8million?

Set in modern day Dublin, from the very first sentence - "Gordon Edgley's sudden death came as a shock to everyone, not least himself" - Landy's snappy, concise writing style sets him apart from most of his contemporaries. Gordon's niece, Stephanie, attends the funeral and sees Skulduggery for the first time. For the feisty, stubborn teenager, fate is sealed. Together Stephanie and Skulduggery uncover the mystery of Gordon's death, encountering flocks of wonderfully larger than life evil characters along the way.

Landy's love of schlock horror - as in the Mumba teenage zombie flick - comes across in the book in a series of blood-splattered yet funny set pieces. Landy is a black belt in karate and his fight scenes are perfectly pitched. His secondary characters are exceptionally well drawn and delightfully colourful, from the hideously evil, Nefarian Serpine, to the Lara Croft like warrior, Tanith Low, and my favourite, the enigmatic and rather slippery China Sorrows (one look and you're in love).

What makes this book stand out from the many adventure novels published for children every month is Landy's characterisation. Skulduggery is a tour de force of imagination, a man with a shady past, which gives him real depth and motivation. "My nature, it is a dark and twisted thing," he says.

But Landy has really hit pay dirt with Stephanie, a highly likable girl all readers, both male and female, will identify with. Stephanie and Skulduggery fire one liners at each other, like a modern day Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, and their mutual respect and affection is charmingly old fashioned.

The attention to detail also makes his writing ring with authenticity. Skulduggery doesn't drive any old car, he owns a "1954 Bentley R-Type Continental". The action skits around real places in Dublin, from Christ Church Cathedral to the Olympia and the Waxwork Museum, and this name checking makes it great fun for Irish readers.

The last quarter of the book thrills along at warp speed, every carefully crafted sentence feeding into the next. Reading it is like riding a roller coaster, and I haven't experienced anything quite like it since whipping through the last Artemis Fowl book by the master of break-neck plotting, Eoin Colfer.

Skulduggery Pleasant is taut, full of zippy dialogue and fantastically visual and it will come as no surprise to readers that Landy is currently in negotiations with some of the top names in Hollywood. The book is crying out to be filmed and the Skulduggery series (this is the first book in a planned series) has an excellent shot at being the next Harry Potter.

So is it worth ?1.8 million? Yes, and the rest!

Sarah Webb is an author and children's books consultant

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