Lori and Max
By Catherine O’Flynn
Published by Firefly
ISBN 978 1 913102 02 9
Behind the unimaginative title of Catherine O’Flynn’s debut novel for young readers, there hides a wonderful and wittily written detective story involving two eccentric and memorable 11-year-old girls with enough personality between them to fill a dozen books.
The characters of both titular protagonists are strong and quirky, and at times threaten to burst out of O’Flynn’s smart mystery and defy the reader not to get involved. Lori and her new friend Max are two of the most interesting characters to appear in children’s fiction for quite some time.
O’Flynn won plaudits for her first novel for adults in 2008, and has since published two more acclaimed adult fiction titles. Young readers are lucky that her fourth book, a mystery tale about a mismatched pair of child detectives, is for them, and not their parents.
Orphan Lori Mason wants to be a detective when she leaves school. She knows she’s got a detective’s natural instincts, and that she would be brilliant at the job. But the only mysteries she’s solved so far are finding items that her gran has lost.
But Lori knows that the first big one is waiting just round the corner. In the meantime, she has to attend school, which sometimes, quite frankly, she feels is a waste of time for someone with her talents for detection. The last thing Lori needs is to be paired up with Max, a new girl in her class, and a bit of an oddball.
Max’s clothes don’t fit, she doesn’t want to talk to anyone, and her hair is as unpredictable as her personality. But the two girls have one thing in common: neither of them fits in.
Max is used to being dumped in a new school, because she and her depressed mum and gambler dad move home on a regular basis. Home life is neither happy nor stable, but she has learned to accept things and manage the best she can, by building an imaginary but impenetrable fence around herself.
But just as these two outsiders are making tentative steps towards friendship, Max disappears. At the same time, police are called to the school over the theft of money. Suddenly, Lori is presented with two real mysteries to solve, and she springs into immediate action to track down Max and clear her name.
Crime fiction for young readers is often a hit-and-miss affair, with authors often underestimating their readers’ intelligence and imagination. O’Flynn’s first children’s book is up on a shelf all of its own.
Lori and Max’ adventure might be hiding behind an entirely nondescript title, but their story is strong, exhilarating, beautifully written and absolutely essential reading for young fans of mystery writing and crime-solving.
John Millen can be contacted at Millenbookshelf@gmail.com