cover image Demon Dentist

Demon Dentist

David Walliams, illus. by Tony Ross. Harper, $17.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-241704-6

A bestselling author for children in the U.K., comedian Walliams (Mr. Stink) promises “a horror story. With quite a lot of made-up words” in the preface to this novel, and what follows is indeed a ghastly affair. Alfie Griffith, 12, has it rough: dead mother, dying father, and an early-life experience with the dentist so grisly that he never returned, leaving him with a mouthful of rotting teeth. When a new dentist arrives, Alfie’s social worker insists he visit, even though Miss Root is clearly evil. Her arrival coincides with a disturbing crime spree: teeth left under pillows are replaced not with shillings but with horrifying calling cards: a human eyeball, a dead cockroach, a bat wing (still flapping). The grotesqueries evoke Dahl, but the comparison ends there. The jokes are stale (especially the ones at the expense of the overweight social worker), the adults all buffoons, and the plot a couple hundred pages longer than necessary. Ross’s humorous illustrations recall Quentin Blake’s, but aren’t enough to buoy the sagging adventure or an ending so sugar-coated it would keep Miss Root in business for years. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)