Two Crafty Criminals!: And How They Were Captured by the Daring Detectives of the New Cut Gang

Philip Pullman. Knopf, $16.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-375-87029-3
First published (separately) in England in the 1990s, these two novellas showcase Pullman’s (The Golden Compass) gift for slapstick. Set in London in 1894, both stories feature a likeable gang of would-be detectives led by preteens Sam, nicknamed Thunderbolt for the “colossal blow” with which he knocked out a ruffian who made a nasty remark about his late mother, and Benny, who fancies himself the brains of the operation. In “Thunderbolt’s Waxwork,” the gang must clear Sam’s father from suspicions that he’s been manufacturing (and circulating) counterfeit coins. In “The Gas-Fitters’ Ball,” the gang’s investigation of a theft becomes entangled with their mission to get a shy (adult) friend to propose to his longtime paramour. The comedy is broad, with a distinct British accent, but readers will find affinity with the gang’s aim to lead more exciting lives, especially when that requires skipping school to solve a crime (“[M]ost of them regarded the School Board as the slow-witted opponent in a delightful game, and played hookey at the slightest opportunity”). The trim length and ample hijinks make either story a good choice for classroom reading. Ages 8–12. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/12/2012
Release date: 05/08/2012
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