December 07, 2012

Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure

Written and illustrated by Kevin Sylvester
Simon & Schuster
352 pp.
Ages 8-12
October, 2012

In Kevin Sylvester's fourth installment in his Neil Flambé Capers, Neil Flambé has gone manga, courtesy of his cousin, partner and sous-chef, Larry, who has been collaborating online with illustrator Hiro Takoyaki. Their comic, The Chef, starring our young gourmet prodigy, has even been offered a book deal.  So Larry is off to Tokyo and leaves Gary, the shabby bike courier, as his replacement.

As unconventional and careless as Gary may be, his Aboriginal heritage helps bring the restaurant, Chez Flambé, a new reputation as the place to go for seafood cuisine, and Neil almost prefers Gary to Larry's antics.  But when news comes that Larry and Hiro have been killed in a storm at sea, Neil is devastated.  That is, until he notes an almost inconspicuous change in the online comic which Neil takes as a message that Larry is alive.  So Neil arranges to participate in a series of kitchen duels in Japan so he'd have an excuse to search for Larry.  Unfortunately, the kitchen duels in which Neil agrees to participate are organized by Matsumoro Nori, a heartless mega-billionaire who makes his money illegally, even peddling in endangered species. 

In Tokyo, Neil competes against Nori's enslaved chef, Kong, while risk-taking judges play Russian roulette with their own lives.  Between rounds of haiku deciphering, ingredient searching and death-defying cooking, Neil works with his friends detective Nakamura, Isabella Tortellini and her chaperone/bodyguard Jones to locate Larry.  Ultimately, the group must discretely unravel the puzzle of an ancient scroll, evade ninjas, and manoeuvre a submarine, all within the sensual experience that is Japan.  The spices, the scents, the landscape, the people, the landscape - all enrich the adventure and mystery in Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure.

If possible, Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure may be Kevin Sylvester's best yet.  And, considering the fact that the first three Neil Flambé books (Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders, Key Porter, 2010; Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction, Key Porter, 2011; Neil Flambé and the Crusader's Curse, Simon & Schuster, 2012) have all been nominated for Silver Birch Fiction awards, the first volume winning the award in 2011, that's astoundingly high praise.  Neil is growing into himself (that sounds rather painful, doesn't it?), becoming less arrogant and more compassionate, and Larry has become more sure of himself and even more prolific in his punny ways (earning this volume a place in my upcoming WordPlay book list).  And with the addition of quirky Gary and unethical gourmand Nori, Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure is a bountiful buffet where dessert is the main course.

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