Sunday, 8 March 2015

Detective Gordon: The First Case: book review

Detective Gordon: The First Case  

Book review by Trevor Agnew


Detective Gordon: The First Case (2015) Ulf Nilsson, ill. Gitte Spee, Gecko Press,  Wellington NZ, 95 pages paperback  ISBN 978 1 92721 50 6

Gordon is no ordinary detective. Not only is he a toad but he makes his first appearance sound asleep at his desk, face-down on an important document. “From the corner of his mouth spit dribbled on to the paper.”  While Gordon is indeed the “famous Detective Gordon, chief of police and chief of detectives…feared by all criminals” he is also the only police officer in the forest. “It’s just me – sadly,” confesses Gordon.

When an outraged squirrel reports a nut theft, Gordon soon finds that he needs help – not least because he has become frozen in place during a snowy overnight stake-out. 

His rescuer (and first suspect) is the charming mouse, Buffy, who becomes Gordon’s lively and vigorous deputy. The odd couple complement each other perfectly as they seek out the mysteriously elusive nut-thief.

A charming aspect of this story is Gordon’s broad-hearted interpretation of the law. He doesn’t begrudge a nut to a starving mouse. “Say they’re dizzy and about to faint and need a bite to eat – we’re understanding. We must make allowances in our forest. All of us.”  Gordon’s detection techniques are also appealing. The process by which he eliminates the fox and several other suspects from his investigation will appeal to the logical minds of young readers.

Both Buffy and Gordon take pleasure in the rituals and routines of their work. The former mainly consists of using the station stamp which has a satisfying Kla-dunk sound. The latter involves the contents of the three police station cake tins. The animals are as interested in their food – oat cakes with candied orange, vanilla cakes with strawberry jam, chocolate cakes with blackcurrant jam – as their counterparts in The Wind in the Willows. Like Precious Ramotswe, Gordon uses his understanding of human nature (or in his case animal nature) to bring events to a conclusion that gives everyone what they deserve.

Detective Gordon: The First Case is beautifully written with gentle humour and compassion. The colour illustrations by Gitte Spee capture the mood of the tale perfectly; her squirrels are full of exuberance, Gordon is world-weary and Buffy is refreshingly enthusiastic. The result is an ideal introduction for young readers to the world of novels.

This book was first published in Sweden in 2012 as Kommismarie Gordon:Det  första fallet; the English translation is by Julia Marshall.

Trevor Agnew 

5 Feb 2015


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