Potkin and Stubbs (Potkin and Stubbs 1) by Sophie Green, illustrated by K. J. Mountford

Cover illustration by Karl Mountford

I’ve read more books this year than I think I ever have, and have rediscovered genres that I haven’t touched for some time. As I’ve said elsewhere here, fantasy is my preference but I have always loved detective stories after discovering the Sherlock Holmes books while at primary school. Although I haven’t read any of those for a while now, I have read quite a few mysteries aimed at children this year and have been particularly looking forward to this one, which my Twitter friend @notsotweets has recommended fairly regularly throughout this year.

Knowing nothing about it, other than his opinion that it is Raymond Chandleresque, I bought a copy a couple of months ago and duly added it to my TBR pile where it sat until it was suggested as a book for the soon-to-finish Believathon reading challenge to complete the prompt to read a book with a supernatural element. With nothing in the blurb to indicate why this was suggested, I picked it up at the start of the week and read on.

Peligan City is somewhere which is unlikely to be top of anyone’s list of places to visit. Grey, dull and pouring with rain when we enter it, the only brightness comes from the billboards and casino in the city centre. But we are headed to the backstreets, where we find would-be reporter Lil Potkin, who has not only missed her bus but has received a drenching to compound her misery. Taking shelter within the waiting room, she removes a poster from the notice board – a child’s request for information about a missing favourite toy – and becomes aware of a movement out of the corner of her eye.

Aware now that a boy has entered and sat down at an empty table, Lil watches him closely for a short while before buying each of them a hot chocolate and going to join him. When she tries to give him the drink, it ends up being spilled and the boy becomes agitated when she firstly offers him her drink to replace it and then tries to give him money to buy another. Leaving him briefly to pick up her belongings, she is puzzled by his sudden disappearance but gives him no more thought when the next bus arrives and she boards it to return home.

On arriving, she looks through the junk mail to find a copy of the Klaxon, secretly hidden within a menu for a local takeaway. This publication is a newssheet in which Lil hopes to find out the truth of what is going on around her, as she is unable to trust the Herald which is under the control of the powers that be at City Hall. Reading the stories contained within the Klaxon while she eats a hastily-constructed sandwich, Lil reads the lead story concerning the accidental death of a nurse in an explosion before turning to the writing of her favourite columnist and reflecting on how she longs to be in his shoes.

After turning in for the night, she is visited by her mother, who has returned from work oddly smelling of spent matches, before falling asleep. Waking up freezing cold during the night, Lil is startled to see a silhouetted figure standing in front of the window and on turning on the light is even more startled to find it is the mysterious boy from the bus station who tells her that her mother has let him in. When he looks at all the newspaper clippings she has displayed on her walls, she tells him she wants to be a reporter before the boy reveals that he has a story for her – a Missing Persons case.

This would no doubt be intriguing enough but the boy tells Lil that he is the missing person. Having lost his memory, he states that he does not know by whom he is being missed and after Lil suggests that he seek help from the police or a hospital, tells her that he has tried to do so to no avail. With no other options left available to him, Lil agrees to help him and during a visit to the nearby library comes across the name of a former detective, who Lil approaches for help. The detective, however, is preoccupied with trying to track down mob boss Ramon LeTeef, who has escaped justice, and at first is not interested in helping her.

As more deaths due to accidental explosions and fires are reported, it soon becomes apparent that the two cases are linked and Lil and the detective are both placed in enormous danger as they try to find out what has happened to the boy prior to meeting Lil. Will they be able to discover what has taken place while he has been missing or will they too fall victim to the fire-starter loose in Peligan City?

Usually, when I review a book, I am very careful to try to give a flavour of the story without including spoilers. This is often quite straight forward, but in this case I have had to try to be extremely careful in what I have said because there is an enormous plot twist incredibly early on in the book. Not since I read Orphans of the Tide earlier this year, have I had so much to say about a book without actually being able to say it!

What I can say is that Lil is a great protagonist: strong-willed, curious and independent. Although her mother is on the scene, she works long hours and so Lil has had to become self-reliant and assume a lot of responsibility which stands her in good stead when she meet up with the detective, Mandrel. He, on the other hand, is a mess – an individual who has fallen on hard times and wallows in self-loathing and heavy drinking because of what he sees as his failure to put the mobster behind bars. As the story progresses, Lil often acts as the adult in the relationship and although she needs Mandrel’s help – and his car – he is frequently happy to let her lead the investigation.

The boy is also an interesting character. He brings his own unique talents to the search for the truth but is almost entirely reliant on Lil and Mandrel to carry out the lion’s share of the investigations, which he finds deeply frustrating. When he finds out the truth behind his amnesia, he comes into his own and shows great courage and initiative in his attempts to put right the wrongs that have been committed within the city and against himself.

With this being the first in the series, much of the story is taken up with establishing the relationship between Lil and the boy (aka Potkin and Stubbs) and it will be very interesting for me to see how that dynamic evolves in Book 2 – The Haunting of Peligan City. As so often seems to be the case, I have come to this series some time after everyone else (Book 3 – Ghostcatcher – was published earlier this year) but – as I’ve said before – that is not necessarily a bad thing: there are few things more frustrating as a reader to find a series you love and know that you have months and months to wait until you can get your sticky mitts on the next instalment. Fortunately for me, that is not the case here.

This is a great book for confident, independent readers in Year 5 upwards. I know there are several children in Year 6 who would adore this and I have one of my Year 5s – who is as book-daft as me – itching to read this when I take it in to add to my little library because I have been trying to give them a flavour of the story without that big plot reveal I mentioned earlier. Supernatural without being overly scary, this is a great take on the detective genre and one to which I am awarding 5 out of stars.

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