The London Eye Mystery
A few years ago, Mark Haddon's THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME earned rave reviews, in part for the original voice of its narrator, who has a minor form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome. In THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY, Siobhan Dowd just as adeptly introduces younger readers to another narrator with Asperger's. Again, his narrative voice, it turns out, is just as compelling as the mystery that forms the cornerstone of the novel's exciting plot.
Ted's brain works really well --- sometimes too well. He can keep track of facts and figures, knows obscure and complicated weather phenomena, and traces weather patterns and shipping forecasts. But Ted has a hard time reading people, who, in his mind, are much less predictable than the weather. His counselor has given him a chart to help him read and interpret facial expressions, but he still has trouble with small talk and understanding figurative language (like, well, "small talk").
Ted's family is loving and supportive, even if his older sister Kat sometimes gets frustrated with him. When it comes to a crisis, though, no one would think of Ted as the person to solve a life-or-death problem. But, it turns out, that's exactly what happens when Ted and Kat's cousin Salim, stopping by the family's London home en route to his new home in New York City, disappears without a trace. Salim really wants to visit the London Eye, the huge Ferris wheel that has become the United Kingdom's most popular tourist attraction. But when he does so, he somehow manages to disappear between boarding the revolving pod and landing 30 minutes later.
At first, Ted's parents and aunt are convinced there is a simple explanation. Then, as the hours pass and the police are called in, his whole family is thrown into crisis. Ted has plenty of his own theories, but can he get any adults to take him seriously? And can he, with his differently wired brain, really see connections that everyone else has missed?
THE LONDON EYE MYSTERY would be a compelling story even without Ted's unusual perspective. Plenty of twists and turns, dead ends and false hopes make for a breathlessly fascinating mystery plot. Dowd also seamlessly introduces some other larger issues, such as the situation of race relations, poverty and prejudice in the United Kingdom, without seeming preachy or off-track.
But what really makes this novel shine, and stick in readers' heads long after the mystery has been solved, is Ted's utterly captivating voice. In telling her story, Dowd demonstrates that a condition that would be viewed by most of the world as a disability can actually be a tremendous asset. Ted's unique way of thinking makes him simultaneously older than his years and vulnerable, and readers will be rooting for him to find his voice and trust his abilities.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on May 26, 2009