By M. G. Leonard
Published by Chicken House
ISBN 978 1 910002 70 4
Beetles aren’t the cutest or cuddliest of creatures so M.G. Leonard must have had quite a tough time pitching Beetle Boy to a publisher. Who would want to read a book with a rhinoceros beetle called Baxter as a central character? Some people do have beetles as pets, but they’re not exactly as cute as puppies.
The good news is Leonard turns out to be an original new voice in the YA fiction universe and she has pulled off the seemingly impossible task of writing what could well be the first creepy-crawly YA best-seller. Beetle Boy is gutsy, dark and entertaining. This is one debut novel when the reader will be begging for a sequel.
Dr Bartholomew Cuttle is a departmental director at the Natural Science Museum, and he is not the type of person to just disappear. But this is what has happened. Dr Cuttle has vanished without trace after entering one of the Museum’s secure collection vaults.
Darkus, Dr Cuttle’s son, refuses to accept that his father would just have walked away from everything and abandoned him. But this is the police’s explanation of what has happened. No foul play is suspected.
With the help of his Uncle Max, his school friends Bertolt and Virginia, and a persistent rhinoceros beetle that befriends Darkus, young Cuttle embarks on a quest to track down his father and uncover the truth.
Leonard’s set-up for the story and humour is classic and she has created wonderful characters and thrilling action. And then there are the bugs. Next to Uncle Max’s flat there is a filthy, almost derelict building that is a perfect home for an army of interesting beetles. It isn’t long before both beetles and kids are involved in the thrilling mystery.
When slimy baddie Lucretia Cutter comes on the scene with her evil intentions, humans and creepy-crawlies combine to bring her down. The Cruella de Vil-esque Mrs Cutter has a liking for insect jewellery, and she is most certainly behind the disappearance of Darkus’ dad.
Leonard’s writing is so strong that Beetle Boy could quickly become a classic. Barry Cunningham, the man who signed up JK Rowling for her first Harry Potter book, is the man behind Darkus and Baxter. He knows a good book when he reads one!
There is only one misstep in this impressive debut. Why bother with the weak illustrations that annoyingly keep popping up throughout the text? Leonard is such a strongly visual writer that we don’t need any extra clues about what is going on. They’d do well to remove them when the next edition is printed!
John Millen can be contacted at MillenBookshelf@aol.com