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Curse of the Night Wolf: Barnaby Grimes    by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell order for
Curse of the Night Wolf
by Paul Stewart
Order:  USA  Can
David Fickling Books, 2008 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, authors of the bestselling Edge Chronicles and the award-winning Far-Flung Adventures, have created a new Barnaby Grimes mystery series for their multitude of fans. Swashbuckling hero Barnaby debuts in Curse of the Night Wolf, set in Victorian London. At book-end, a chapter is offered from the next edition of the Barnaby Grimes mysteries, Return of the Emerald Skull.

Barnaby is one of the best tick-tock lads, a deliverer of messages, 'quick as a wink' both day and night. He speeds through his delivery route, over rooftops, 'gutter to gable' and 'pillar to pediment'. Called Highstacking, it's not for the faint-hearted, but Barnaby has a 'penchant for seeking out trouble'. Barnaby's steady list of clients include the legal offices of Bradley Bradstock and Aloysius Clink who send summonses, writs, and the like. The popular tick-tock lad admits to some strange assignments such as the Wetland and Fen Ornithological Society's consignment of blue-speckled Muscovy duck eggs, still warm as they need to be for the Annual Hatching Banquet. The tick-tock lad dresses efficiently in a twelve-pocket poacher's waistcoat, with coalstack hat, and carries a trusty swordstick in hand.

Barnaby narrates: 'I'll never forget the events of that terrible night as long as I live ... events that still bring a cold sweat to my brow and a tremor to my hand. Yet speak of them I must, for in their retelling, perhaps I can offer some insight into the black heart of this great, bustling city.' Returning to the law offices to collect his pay, Grimes experiences the fright of his life as he maneuvers along a parapet. Sensing a movement behind him, he catches a glimpse of 'Something in the shadows', hunkered down, hissing and snarling, 'with long legs, a massive head and a monstrous barrel-chest', with a set of 'blazing yellow eyes ... dripping fangs and polished claws'. As the creature prepares to pounce, Barnaby steps aside and the beast falls through a skylight into a vat of bubbling hot glue.

Barnaby's best friend, Old Benjamin Barlow, resides in a dingy set of rooms. The retired coach-and-four driver suffers coachman's lung, until one day Barnaby notices that Ben looks much better. His old friend credits a cure-all potion from a local doctor. While Barnaby questions Ben's landlady the next day as to his friend's whereabouts, a tick-tock lad arrives with a message addressed to 'Mr. Benjamin Barlow ... URGENT To be delivered by hand before lamplighting'. Hours late, it reads 'present yourself at my consulting rooms this evening no later than sunset ... Failure to receive this final dose could result in side effects'. The landlady informs Barnaby that Ben 'Done a moonlight flit without so much as a by-your-leave!'

Barnaby sets out to visit the doctor on opulent Hartley Square. Treating Grimes for arm burns from the night before, Dr. Cadwallader hires the tick-tock for deliveries. Barnaby's suspicions arise as he sees that the rich doctor is treating the poor with his home-made potion, without charge. Next, one of the legal firm members goes missing! Paul Stewart's colorful use of language and memorable names like Scaldy Sal are a delight, while Chris Riddell's illustrations are absorbing to the reader's eyes as Stewart's words are to the mind, all making for a desire to read Curse of the Night Wolf in one sitting.

Especially notable for me among Riddell's offerings are the following resplendent illustrations: one of Barnaby performing a high-up-in-the-air acrobatic move called a Rolling Derby, defined as 'a half-somersault followed by a one-legged standing pivot at the top of a vertical stanchion'. On another page: a head-to-toe, robe-covered figure, with dark panels concealing its eyes, while sporting a 'huge silver and glass syringe' in its hands, and the sound of thump-thump-thump approaching closer and closer! Oh, I can't leave this one out - the splendor of a moonlit night, and 'The great black wolf threw back its head, its muzzle stained crimson with blood, and howled at the full moon.'

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