“If I’d ever thought about it before, I imagined the candy trade was just a game, a handful of chocolates at a time, but this shocked me – the scale of it was much bigger than I’d expected. It didn’t feel so much like a game, all of a sudden.”
When notorious candy gangster Eddie de Menthe walks into Nelle’s office, chewing gum like it isn’t illegal in a city where candy is banned, she knows trouble is coming. Trouble of the sticky, sickly sweet kind.
Little does she expect though to get swept up in a case of theft, smuggling and missing persons. A case that has drawn in kids and adults alike. Everyone is after something, and Nelle is now slap-bang in the middle. Can she make it out, beat the baddies (once she can figure out who they are!) and solve not just her case, but a mystery that has affected the whole sweet-deprived city for years?
Candy is a story that wouldn’t be out of place among the black and white detective movies of the 1940s, apart from the fact that most of the cast are roughly twelve years old. From Nelle’s inner monologue to Eddie’s playground described like a prohibition gambling den, from the ransacked office cliché to the stink bomb that is reminiscent of gangsters roughing a place up, Tidhar uses these classic images and stereotypes to weave a wonderfully engaging plot. The fact that it is somewhat similar in its execution to the memorable child-gangster movie Bugsy Malone definitely works in its favour.
Nelle Faulkner is our fast-talking detective, sharing witty banter with clients, informants and suspects alike. Her internal descriptions are peppered with references to sweets (for example, shadows like “dark chocolate” and clouds like “candyfloss”) that show just how pervasive the loss of candy is in the city. There are some very human moments amongst all the bravado however which remind you that, when it comes down to it, she is still a child.
The same can be said for all the other characters – everyone in the “candy game” puts on a brave face, but there is genuine confusion, fear and sometimes hurt underneath that really makes you feel for these kids, caught up as they are in what is actually quite an adult plot. The adults themselves fall into two main categories of either very realistic (this covers the parents, shop owners, etc.), or obviously out of place in both description and behaviour, but this works quite well. One almost wonders if we’re seeing them not as they are, but as Nelle sees them!
There are several mysteries going on at the same time throughout the book, but the way that Tidhar lays them out makes it hard to work out exactly how they all relate, meaning some of the reveals can be quite a surprise! The chapters are kept relatively short but with cliff-hangers that make you want to read on, like the weekly stories published in old-fashioned pulp magazines.
Beech’s illustrations have an almost Quentin Blake quality to them, meaning they suit this style of story perfectly. I especially like the touch of having a map of the city in the front of the book – it’s a small city, more like a town really, and the distances and sizes of things don’t look quite right, which gives it the ideal feeling of having been drawn up by our intrepid detective.
Overall, I thought the book was excellent; the story is compelling, the characters are interesting and the writing style is fast-paced and clever. I had difficulty putting it down, and I think a lot of kids will too!