CM . . .
. Volume XI Number 14. . . .December 7, 2012
In this fourth adventure in the series about Neil Flambé, a teenage prodigy chef, Neil is just settling down to getting his restaurant back in shape after his last adventure when his cousin Larry leaves suddenly for Japan to work on an online manga. Larry and his illustrator Hiro soon disappear and are presumed dead, but Neil notices subtle differences in the comic that lead him to believe they are alive. He travels to Japan, along with his girlfriend Isabella and her bodyguard Jones, as well as his police inspector friend Nakamura, using a cooking duel with arch-villain Nori as both a ruse and a means of financing the trip. In between cooking duels with Nori’s chef Kong, the trio find Larry in hiding to prevent more attempts on his life, and they uncover an elaborate plot to find treasure lost by Hiro’s family, former Japanese nobility. Following the clues in a submarine, the group find the treasure under Tokyo Bay, whereupon Hiro attacks them in his own submarine. They are saved by their newfound ally, Hiro’s sister Koko, Hiro dies, and the treasure is remitted to the authorities.
As in the previous books in this series, Sylvester’s wild imagination is on display here in every hyperbolic detail. The culinary links to everything Neil does are fascinating, right down to clues discovered by his very sensitive nose. Here, the cuisine most on display is Japanese. Along with other features of Japanese urban culture, from tiny hotels to manga comics, not to mention names like Nori (also known as sushi seaweed), it forms a rich background to the action. Here Neil’s friend inspector Nakamura is indispensable to the story as he speaks the language. The multitude of cooking-related clues—even the treasure location in the ancient scrolls is partly revealed by local foods—is a highly original aspect of all the Flambé adventures.
There is, though, something very improbable about the plot, revealing an imagination that maybe could use a little more discipline. The plot twists and successive clues and revelations can be highly confusing, and not just because of the fast pace of the action. Even given the slightly farcical and obviously fantastic nature of the book, some of the connections between the various clues and characters are a little tenuous. The amount of time spent on Neil’s beyond-reality cook-offs on Nori’s yacht is excessive, with the only connection to the main plot being Neil swapping his cook-off winnings for the use of Nori’s submarine to look for the treasure (along with bargaining for the life of Kong, who Nori wants to kill for losing). For a teen, Neil has a lot of enemies throughout the world, with Nori, a cruel ultra-rich narcissist with an empire built on endangered food species, being the ultimate. It is also confusing that Isabella, identified in the previous installment as Neil’s girlfriend, is described here only as his “friend” (albeit one he appears to have a crush on).
Still, Neil Flambé and the Tokyo Treasure is a wild ride that was never meant to be realistic.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.