________________ CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 13. . . .November 26, 2010


Neil Flambé and the Aztec Abduction.

Kevin Sylvester.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter, 2010.
317 pp., hardcover, $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-55470-329-6.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4



Neil lurched forward, squinting into the glare of the lights. The faint smell of Isabella's perfume still hung in the air, but it was disappearing quickly. He moved from behind the counter to look for her, then remembered what the note said. A chill went down his spine. "You must lose in the final. You will follow these instructions to the letter if you want to see her alive." Neil's mind raced, trying to absorb all this new information. Isabella couldn't have been gone for more than five minutes - maybe he could catch her and her abductors before they got away! But if not, he would certainly forfeit the match and Isabella would die.

He stood frozen to the spot.

Neil Flambé, child chef prodigy and 'nose' extraordinaire, is back again and involved in another cooking duel. This time it is the Azteca Cocina being held in Mexico City and sponsored by a huge multinational food company. Neil, supremely confident of his abilities, loves competitions, knows he can win this one, and so closes his restaurant in Vancouver for major renovations to be paid for by the $250,000 prize and heads to Mexico. For the Neil we met in the previous book (Neil Flambé and the Marco Polo Murders), tunnel-visioned and totally self-centred, this might have been straightforward, but at 14, he has suddenly discovered girls, in particular he has fallen for Isabella, the 16-year-old daughter of a world-class chef (ironically killed during a cooking duel with Angel Jícama, Neil's chief cooking mentor.) She, herself, is a world-class perfume maker and is also in Mexico City looking for new suppliers for her business. When Neil is warned first not to go to Mexico and then to win his competitions only up to the final round, which he is to lose spectacularly if he doesn't want Isabella to die at the hands of her kidnappers, he is torn. In his view, the only possible solution is to first rescue Isabella and then win the competition.

internal art     Naturally, he accomplishes this in his own inimitable fashion. Using his incredible sense of smell, he manages to deduce Isabella's whereabouts from the scents he identifies in the locks of her hair sent to him daily by the kidnappers. This same sense of smell enables him to steal a march on his cooking competitors by identifying the secret ingredient on which the day's menu is to be based. This ingredient is concealed in a closed chest sitting behind the official of the food company as he makes his opening speech, but naturally a closed container is no obstacle to Neil's nose. The extra five minutes' planning time this gives him is an enormous advantage in a competition that lasts only one hour.

      The book has all the elements of the previous one in the series: the goofy mystery plot, the food-fad tie-ins, the feuding chefs, and Cousin Larry's eccentric researches. These last concerned all things related to the ancient Aztecs and their religion - including the prevalence of Ts and Xs among the names of their gods. Frankly the flood of information gets a bit overwhelming and tedious at times, but it does serve to explain some of the more incredible plot twists. The difference between this book and the last lies in Neil's attitudes. He now actually cares about something other than food, namely Isabella, Larry, and Angel. The focus of the story is less on his ego, temper, and skill, and more on how these can work to save his friends. Luckily, this focus on relationships doesn't stop the whole book from being really funny from beginning to end. I only wish Neil had revealed more of his recipe for ice cream other than that it is based on potatoes, fifty-nine cocoa beans, and grilled corn!

     I would like to make a passing mention of Kevin Sylvester's sketches which add spice, interest, and enjoyment to each page.


Mary Thomas works in an elementary school library in Winnipeg, MB, and loves reading illustrated cookbooks.

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

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