________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 27. . . .March 19, 2010


Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders.

Kevin Sylvester.
Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2010.
300 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55470-266-4.

Grades 5-9 / Ages 10-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

**** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Neil Flambé was in his element. Now that he was actually cooking he could forget about the rotten fish. ... There was only one knife that could calm his nerves after the skirmishes with Gunter, Larry and the fish: the knife he'd had specially made when he was just 10 years old. It had been forged in a centuries-old blacksmith shop in southern France, and had been weighted perfectly for his hand and his alone.

Neil had undergone a growth spurt recently that had left him feeling gangly and awkward. But even still, this knife felt like an extension of his own body. ...

Neil's grumpiness disappeared as he started prepping the garlic. He didn't like chefs who sliced it all thin and uniform, especially not for this dish. He preferred irregular sizes. Some bits would give the diner a subtle hint of the herb, while others would suddenly explode on the tongue with a burst of garlic flavour.

He threw the garlic into a stainless steel bowl.

"Some salt from Italy."

"Pepper from Indonesia."

Neil added herbs, picked just five minutes ago from the rooftop garden above his kitchen. He took some organic olive oil and splashed it with a slight touch of locally grown cranberry vinegar. It was his own brand, perfected in his basement with the chemistry set his parents had bought him in a vain attempt to encourage a less expensive career.


The top chefs of Vancouver's classier restaurants are dying, killed by some unidentifiable poison that leaves them with their faces blue but their lips smiling. The chief of police calls in his expert: The Nose, aka 14-year-old Neil Flambé, chef, restauranteur, sniffer extraordinary, and, incidentally, school boy. What follows is a rambunctious romp through the herd of sacred cows of haute cuisine: the insistence on specifically sourced ingredients, incredibly expensive equipment, jealously guarded recipes, and bitter rivalries. The cooks in question are all relevantly named, from Flambé, himself, through Almond and LeBoeuf (both murdered) to Miss Cinnamon, Neil's home economics teacher who once sent him to the office for asking if the lemon meringue pie was meant to be a dessert or a foot fungus. Tied in with the food-y references are quotations from the diary that Marco Polo kept of his final journey from China to Venice with his load of tea and spices. internal artSnippets from the diary are found at the scenes of all the murders, along with a peculiar scent which even Neil, to his chagrin, cannot identify. Who killed them? And why?

     Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders is a giggle from beginning to end. Only food is taken seriously and that only by the chefs and the customers prepared to pay through the nose for a true gastronomic experience. The murders are outrageous, each shedding a new batch of red herrings with which to mislead the reader. It may be a bit sophisticated for your average teenager whose gastonomic heights are likely to be pizza and poutine, but any adult who picks it up will find chuckles and belly laughs on every page.

Highly Recommended

Mary Thomas works in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, MB, and cooks for enjoyment.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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