Dreamy, strange and moody in a miserable and cruel setting, Potkin and Stubbs has the hallmarks of classic film noir but in a child friendly context and I adore it completely and cannot wait until Book 2 in September!!
One night walking the rain stained streets of Peligan City she comes across a mysterious young boy who has a huge secret, he is missing and needs help to find out what happened to him.
This investigation leads her to a secret library and a jaded former detective to solve the crime who seems to know her mother and they all become tangled up in the mystery of the unexplained fires.
“The street was lined with derelict buildings that had once been respectable. The decorative plasterwork was crumbling, the glass orbs of the cast-iron lamp-posts were algae stained and the pavement was cracked beyond repair. Sirens wailed in the background and the low solitary singing a saxophone spiralled up from one of the dark basement clubs. “
Incredibly cinematic in a film noir way it borrows much from that genre with nods to classic moody b&w crime movies and it does have the dark gloomy constantly raining feel of the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman reboots and other neo noir films.
There are also other cult viewing references that older or ‘cultured’ readers may recognise with a smile from nods to Bruce Lee’s nunchukas, to Misha Collins apparating suddenly in the back of the Impala startling the Winchesters in Supernatural.
The illustrations by Karl Mountford have the combination of a graphic novel feel, with nods to early 20th century cinema Metropolis tinted urban styling and Art Deco design playing with dark and shade creating this moody punctuation to the text.
These references themselves are to darker narratives than this middle grade tale but add their own flavour and gritty nuances to the enigmatic tale that Sophie Green spins in Peligan City.
“Lil,a wiry twelve-year-old with cup-handle ears and a belly full of ambition,wore her hair cut into a Bob with a shirt fringe and a signature yellow rain mac.”
However the hardboiled crime and corruption stories of film noir and it’s later inspirations of neo-noir hold the spotlight for the plot as we see young cynical journalist Lil Potkins fighting to see through the fake news and corruptive influences in a city where the law and order has become as corrupt as the organized crime itself.
Abe, her eventual grown up sidekick is not merely cynical by this cycle of violence and corruption, turns to drink and desperation in the classic antihero stance, but as this is a children’s book there is always the whiff of possible redemption.
There is a dreamy supernatural element that permeates the story adding gothic romance to the drizzle and dilapidation of Heligan City. The ghostly chill that Nedly exudes parallels a chill in the reader as we realise the depth of corruption and the lengths bad guys will go to for revenge and how a poor orphan got caught up in the wake.
Overall this is an excellent Middle Grade Mystery with a rich heritage of influences but within the innocence of its target age group, it gently pushes the boundaries of darkness in the same way that watching superhero movies have bad deeds and corrupt characters expand a view of the world and the playful friendship of the two lonely young characters is both charming and heartbreaking at the same time.
Basically read it!! I can’t actually wait for the sequel as there were loose threads deliberately avoided at times throughout the novel driving the pace and purpose from this to future tales .
Potkin and Stubbs by Sophie Green Illustrated by Karl Mountford is published by Piccadilly Press.