It has been a good long while since we at the shelf first encountered the middle grade mystery debut, Knightley and Son by Rohan Gavin, but out of the blue last month Bloomsbury Australia kindly sent us copies of the first two books of the Knightley and Son series – being the aforementioned Knightley and Son and Knightley and Son: K-9 – dressed in quite alluring new covers. Admittedly, this inspired mixed feelings – more about that in a bit – but our feelings were about to be thoroughly tossed about by the arrival on our doorstep of the third book in the series – 3 of a Kind. Let it never be said that Bloomsbury is not generous with their review copies!
And speaking of generosity, ONE lucky reader (who happens to also be AUSTRALIAN! – sorry, international readers) will have the chance to win PAPERBACK COPIES of THE FIRST THREE books in the Knightley and Son detective series!! You’re welcome!
Let’s get the giveaway business over with so our non-Australian friends can get back to enjoying my review. To enter, click on the Rafflecopter link. Ts and Cs and in the rafflecopter. The giveaway will be open until February 25th.
For those who are unaware, Knightley and Son is a middle grade detective series featuring Darkus “Doc” Knightley, his father Alan Knightley and his step-sister, Tilly, as they battle against the formidable, mysterious and manipulative Combination – a shadowy organisation that has some seriously dastardly plans in mind for the innocent folk of London (and the wider world). We first came across the first book in the series in early 2014 and reviewed it at the time. For those who missed it, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Meet Knightley and Son – two great detectives for the price of one …
Darkus Knightley is not your average thirteen-year-old: ferociously logical, super-smart and with a fondness for tweed, detective work is in his blood. His dad Alan Knightley was London’s top private investigator and an expert in crimes too strange for Scotland Yard to handle, but four years ago the unexplained finally caught up with him – and he fell into a mysterious coma. Darkus is determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and find out what really happened. But when Alan suddenly wakes up, his memory is wonky and he needs help. The game is afoot for Knightley & Son – with a mystery that gets weirder by the minute, a bestselling book that makes its readers commit terrible crimes, and a sinister organisation known as the Combination …
A funny, warm, fantastical crime caper with an unlikely hero and a brilliant comic cast, perfect for fans of Sherlock and criminally good storytelling.
If you’re wondering why that cover doesn’t look at all familiar, considering we have featured this book on the blog before, that’s probably because the original cover looked more like this:
…which is also quite alluring. If you want to wade into the thoughts of the shelf circa January 2014, my entire review of the book can be found here. For those of you who ain’t got no time for that, the essence of my feelings on the book can be summarised in this handy quote from the review:
“I found pretty much all of the characters in this book to be fairly two-dimensional which distracted me from the story. I couldn’t go along with the more fantastical elements of the plot because I didn’t even believe the ordinary people, doing ordinary things, were authentic. Going hand in hand with the flat characters was the unfolding of the plot in a whole host of pat and convenient ways. Things just seemed to work out too simply for my tastes. I didn’t feel that there were enough major setbacks for the characters to overcome, as solutions to problems seemed to conveniently pop up just when they were needed in ways that didn’t require the characters to struggle particularly hard. Given the complicated nature of the actual crime that was being investigated, once again, things just didn’t ring true.”
Ouch! Looking back on things now, having read the next two in the series, this criticism was probably a little bit harsh. There were a few elements of the book that didn’t work for me as a reader, but overall the book was an “okay” read. After finishing this one, I actually noted that:
I will see the next book in the series, with its no-doubt eye-popping cover art, and will be reminded of the disappoint-ivity that blossomed into great blossoming clouds as I delved deeper into this book. Sigh.
So melodramatic, Bruce-of-the-past!! But I did promise myself that I was not going to pursue this series any further….UNTIL shiny new paperback copies were thrust under my prominent nose. And it would be plain rude not to have a crack at free books, if someone went to the trouble of sending them.
The good news is that….I didn’t hate the next two books!
Here’s the blurb for book two, K-9, from Goodreads:
Darkus Knightley – tweed-wearing, mega-brained, thoroughly logical 13-year-old investigator of the weird – was just getting used to having his dad back in his life. Then Alan Knightley went off-radar, again, leaving Darkus with a traumatised ex-bomb-disposal dog as his only partner in crime-solving.
Now things are getting even stranger. Family pets are being savaged by a beast at a top London beauty spot. Policemen have been tracked and attacked by a particularly aggressive canine. And two curiously alert hounds seem to be watching Darkus’s house. No one is using the word werewolf – yet – but as the full moon approaches, it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to work out that someone or something sinister is messing with the minds of London’s dog population. A mysterious canine conspiracy is howling for the attention of Knightley & Son …
Criminally good detective adventure, perfect for fans of Sherlock and sharp-minded sleuths of all shapes and sizes …
Out of all three books, I enjoyed this one the most. The story was just complicated enough to be interesting, without having twists that were too complex or unbelievable for the age group. The characters – particularly Uncle Bill – were generally less annoying to me (although I will make an exception for Clive, who seems to be trying for the “Most Annoying Character Ever Penned” award), and I really liked the inclusion of Wilbur, the ex-war dog. We get to find out a little more about each of the characters here, and I particularly enjoyed seeing another side of Darkus, which is developed through his work with Wilbur. Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable and engaging read, despite the fact that my favourite character, Tilly, was missing from the plot for a good deal of the book. The ending left a question mark over the detective agency’s continuation and generally, the two-dimensionality that so irked me in the first book seemed to be slowly oozing away. Essentially, while I didn’t love it to bits and some characters were still giving me the irits, K-9’s focused plot seemed like an improvement over book one.
On then, to Three of a Kind. Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:
Who will hold the winning hand? Sherlock meets Ocean’s Eleven in this wickedly funny, action-packed crime caper.
Darkus Knightley is used to expecting the unexpected. An extraordinary solver of crimes, with immense powers of deduction, and regularly found bedecked in tweed, Darkus is anything but the average 13-year-old. But he is the person to call when strange goings-on are afoot!
Despite trying to leave his detective ways behind to lead a normal teenage life, when his father’s loyal housekeeper, Bogna, goes missing, Darkus must return to the family fold and follow the clues to America and the bright lights of Las Vegas. Alongside his father, Alan, and stepsister, Tilly, Darkus must once again face the deadly criminal organisation the Combination – and this time, all bets are off. With danger at every turn, Knightley and Son will need an ace or two up their sleeves in order to win this game. Will the odds be in our detective duo’s favour? Or will this be the Knightleys’ final roll of the dice?
Perfect for fans of Sherlock, this thrilling crime adventure will keep you on the edge of your seats.
Three of a Kind took on a “road trip” format, with Darkus, Tilly and Alan jetting off to the USA in pursuit of housekeeper Bogna, who it appears has been kidnapped by the Combination in order to force the Knightley’s into some bizarre kind of game. Excepting Clive, who I would be quite happy to whack in the face with a brick, the characters hardly irritated me at all throughout this book. Win! The road trip element was also an interesting touch, with some of the places visited – Survival Town, particularly – laden with the potential for imaginative exploration. Unfortunately, not a lot of time was devoted to each place – the Knightley’s are on a time-sensitive chase, after all – but again, the plot seemed quite focused and featured enough variety in setting to keep the reader on their toes. I was quite impressed with the action-packed, firecracker ending of this one, and was a bit sorry that the same level of adventure couldn’t have come into the story earlier. We also get to find out more about Tilly’s mother in this one, with some quite shocking secrets revealed that cause Tilly no end of identity-crises.
The biggest problem that I have with these books is that there isn’t enough suspense woven into the story to keep me turning the pages. I feel like the foundations are all there to have a brilliant series of books, but the actual stories are lacking in atmosphere. Perhaps the amount of attention that has gone into creating quirky characters (and every character in these books has at least one obvious quirk) has been at the expense of developing a pervading sense of menace and danger in the plot.
I suspect that if I was a typical reader – ie: not a reader who chews through 100+ books a year just on this blog – and was wandering in a library or bookshop, I might well think, “Oh look, the next Knightley and Son! Why yes, I’ll have that!” But as things stand, I want more from this series to really be satisfied.
Until next time,