First published in the U.K. in 1986 and subsequently made into a film called variously Diamond's Edge and Just Ask for Diamond, The Falcon's Malteser is the first in Horowitz's long-running Diamond Brothers Mystery series, now being reissued in an Americanized edition. Herbert Simple, who was fired from the London police department for stupidity and who is a coward to boot, is trying to scratch out a living as the world's worst private detective under the rather romantic name of Tim Diamond. Fortunately his thirteen-year-old brother, Nick, the book's narrator, is made of sterner and smarter stuff. When a mysterious dwarf leaves a package in their hands for safekeeping and is then found murdered, the Diamond brothers leap-or perhaps stumble-into action. The package, it turns out, contains a box of malted milk balls, the Maltesers of the title. Several of the most important criminals in London, among them a near-anorexic known as the Fat Man and a pair of hitmen named Gott and Himmell, apparently believe it to be the key to millions of dollars in diamonds. The book features some nice word play, and Horowitz takes great pleasure in parodying the various cliches of film noir and the hardboiled detective novel, although many of these references will be lost on the story's intended audience. On the other hand, more sophisticated teen readers might wonder why British kids in London are paying for things in dollars and cents. In the sequel, Public Enemy Number Two, Nick Diamond is framed for a jewelry heist and finds himself behind bars, sharing his cell with Johnny Powers, public enemy number one. Nick must break out of jail in order to clear his name and catch the guy who set himup, but he has only his incompetent brother to depend on, which means that things do not look good. The Diamond Brothers stories are invariably funny and full of excitement. Mystery readers with a sense of humor will enjoy both tales and look forward to further books in the series. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P M J (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2004, Philomel, 224p., Ages 11 to 15.
Horowitz launches his "Diamond Brothers" mystery series with a funny and clever spoof of Bogart-inspired private-eye detective films. Bogart references abound, from the title (the Falcon is a crime lord, who has hidden the secret to his diamond stash in a box of "Malteasers," malted-milk chocolate candies), to the appearance of a world-weary cabaret singer named Lauren Bacardi who performs at the Casablanca Club. Thirteen-year-old Nick's older brother, Herbert (aka Tim Diamond), is a disastrously incompetent private detective, aided in solving the mystery of the hidden diamonds at every point by his sharp-eyed and sarcastic younger sibling. Horowitz provides a gallery of the usual sorts of eccentric suspectsa dead dwarf, a crazed criminal professor "who invented computer fraud five years before someone invented the computer," German thugs in matching suits named Gott and Himmel, and the oddly thin "Fat Man" who poisons London's pigeons just for fun. There are grisly murders aplenty (including one of a department-store Santa), and lots of seedy London atmosphere (though why everyone deals in dollars rather than pounds is a puzzle). Nick narrates the story in an amusing, breezy style: "I wish someone had told me it was Knock Out Nick Diamond Week in London"; "I've got better things to spend my pocket money on. New pockets, for example." The ingeniously plotted finale should leave young readers (at least, those who aren't averse to encountering a multiplicity of corpses) looking forward to the next installment of Nick's adventures. 2004 (orig. 1995), Philomel, Ages 9 to 12.
Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
Gr 5-8-Nick Simple's life is anything but simple. His parents have moved to Australia, leaving him in the care of his incompetent older brother who is trying to make a living as a private detective and changes the family name. They are visited by a dwarf who leaves a package with them for safekeeping and later turns up dead. Set in England and filled with a variety of colorful characters, the plot reads like a 1940s P.I. movie. Like Horowitz's "Alex Rider" series (Philomel), the teen protagonist relies on his wits to thwart the enemy. Short chapters, with a conflict in each one, will appeal to reluctant readers.-Kim Carlson, Monticello High School, IA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.