April 25, 2015

Neil Flambé and the Bard's Banquet

by Kevin Sylvester
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
320 pp.
Ages 8-12
January, 2015

Boy chef Neil Flambé, now 15, can't seem to keep himself out of trouble, not even when he tries.   He tries to ignore a jar of old honey with its mysterious note in it that was part of a case excavated at a demolition in London and now the basis for a meal extraordinaire he is preparing for Lord Lane of Liverpool.  But an unexpected shortage requires the ostracized jar to be opened, and the note– with a poem, some numbers and a drawing of a key–is taken by Lane, a Shakespearean aficionado and thespian supporter, but not before Neil's cousin and partner, Larry,  snaps some photos of it.  

As luck (?) would have it, Lord Lane disappears and Her Majesty "requires" that Neil and his Nose–he can sniff out anything–promptly travel to London to smell out the mystery and, of course, find Lane and the "jewel" alluded to in the note.  Neil may have the Nose but it's Larry with his limitless knowledge of Shakespeare's work–I know, go figure–and his sweet affection for the ladies who enables Neil to search out the right sources and decipher the multi-layered clues.

The two are soon partnered with Rose Patil, the uber-brilliant chemist and acquaintance of Neil's sweetie, perfumier Isabella Tortellini. The thorny Rose, who is working at recreating the actual scents that Shakespeare's wife may have worn, agrees to help them decipher the note, suggesting their investigation begin with Will Kemp, a comedic actor whose friendship with Shakespeare had mysteriously sour.  Following clues about Drake's voyage, the Globe Theater, a clock and more, Neil, Larry and Rose, and eventually Isabella and her bodyguard Jones, begin an action-packed foray into history, Shakespeare's work and Elizabethan cooking, while being pursued by the unsavoury Crayfish brothers, all in the hopes of discovering the "jewel" and finding Lord Lane, hopefully alive.

Neil Flambé and the Bard's Banquet is a full serving of epicurean delights, that infuses a mystery with history, action with education–do your homework, Neil!–and fromage with farce.  And the punning and word play is wonderfully inventive and flavourful! 
"So since food and Shakespeare are the themes of the day right now, I wondered what Shakespeare would call his plays if he were also a chef!" (pg. 212)
"Measuring Spoon for Measuring Spoon!"
"The Taming of the Stew!"
"Romeo and Omelet!"
"Twelfth Bite!"
"A Midsummer's Light Cream!"
"The Merchant of Venison!" (pg. 213)
The solution to the mystery is never, never evident, unless you are a scholar of food, Shakespeare and word play, and perhaps not even then.  It takes an assortment of characters, some sweeter than others, to separate the clues, then blend them together into something that is both recognizable, palatable and delicious. Kevin Sylvester does this easily in Neil Flambé and the Bard's Banquet, perhaps his most bountiful Neil Flambé Caper to date.  

  *  *  *  *  *  

Yes, I loved Neil Flambé and the Bard's Banquet but I must share with you a brief Twitter conversation I had with author Kevin Sylvester about the end of the book.  I hope that, if my review doesn't get this book into your hands or into your school, this might.

You'll need to read this book to see what I mean, and then we'll all have to wait for Book 6 for a more revealing answer.

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