Fabio the Flamingo Detective: Mystery on the Ostrich Express by Laura James
Bloomsbury, 2019. ISBN: 9781408889343. 119p.
(Age: 9+) Themes: Crime. Fabio and Gilbert are running late for their trip to Hotel Royale on the Ostrich Express, but not before a visit to Alfonso the jeweller to fix a broken watch. When the Laloozee Ruby necklace is stolen from Alfonso's courier Zazie aboard the train, Fabio and Gilbert are fated to solve the case. Readers can look forward to some classic features of crime writing - abandoned mines, hostages tied to the tracks and a desperate dash on a handcart.
This is a very 'loud' book! Emily Fox's illustrations and feature pages appear shaded with neon highlighter pens in contrast to the noir genre. A flamingo detective is of course flamboyant, but his clumsy side-kick Gilbert, a giraffe, is much less so.
Feminists might take exception to female villains being foxes and leopards while the male heroes are mild mannered herbivores and birds - with the exception of the hyena henchmen of Janice the Claw.
Mystery on the Ostrich Express is old-fashioned in many ways. Not that many first chapter book readers have heard of Murder on the Orient Express, or will mistake Fabio for Inspector Poirot. Yet the literary influences will hopefully one day connect young readers to one of the best of bygone crime classics. The publisher appends a sample chapter of the precursor, The case of the missing hippo in addition to miniaturised covers of the author's The adventures of Pug series. Sample chapters and fun activity packs for many of Laura James' books can be downloaded on the author's site.