I've just finished reading Paul W. Robinson's Charlie On The Case and, as an adult, thoroughly enjoyed it. It did, however, have me scratching my head, slightly puzzled about who the target audience is supposed to be. A first glance at the front cover had me assuming that it would be best suited to my 11-year-old daughter - the simplistic illustration reminded me of the exciting but innocent atmosphere of Enid Blyton books, so I'd have guessed at a 9-12 target age range.
The press release seemed to suggest that I was right in my assumption : "Since 1891, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson have captivated the world of fiction. The stories were innocent and traditional, yet gripping enough to stand the true test of time. In 2016, there’s a new Holmes and Watson on the scene; child sleuths that are as fearless and tenacious as their older counterparts. In Paul Robinson’s new children’s book, the first of their spectacular full-length adventures unravels. ‘Charlie on the Case’ follows the success of Paul’s previously-released book of short stories featuring the detective duo.
Synopsis: This time Charlie and her friends may have bitten off more than they can chew, as they track down a kidnapper and murderer. In this, the first full-length Charlie Holmes novel, they undergo grave peril as they chase the criminal across the country. The action takes our heroine from her home in the home counties to the north of England and finally to the north of Scotland where the final confrontation takes place. Will they catch the cunning perpetrator? Will they all survive? And will Charlie get back in time to complete her homework for school?"
Yep, it's definitely targetting a young audience and the intelligent, fearless and sassy teenage heroine Charlie is sure to appeal to them. There were certain elements of the plot that I felt uncomfortable with though, in a book whose target audience is so young : domestic violence (a husband punches his wife in the face during an argument about her infidelity, he apologises and they stay together - this almost seems to suggest that it is acceptable or normal behaviour, which is not a great message to send to impressionable young readers); an aborted suicide attempt, with the mother considering taking a overdose of paracetamol (do we really need to give them ideas on how it's done?); a young kidnap victim being handcuffed in a garage and left to die, in her underwear (a detail which seemed slightly sleazy and very irrelevant); a young teen playing a violent 18+ video game with the policeman who is protecting her, despite being underage. There were also several violent deaths and attempted murders, which were important to the plot but could have been played down a bit.
At other times, it was the choice of vocabulary that seemed inappropriate to me. At the end of the book, there are several occurrences of "the little bastards" or "the little bitch" - certainly realistic but I would deem it unnecessary in a children's book. Other throwaway comments left me feeling uncomfortable, not as an adult but as a parent : "Mira idly wondered how many male nurses there were on gynaecology wards". (I can hear the "Mum ? What does this mean?" questions already !). Right at the beginning of the book, this passage already left me feeling undecided about the book's suitability as reading material for my daughter : "You know that, technically, someone is not considered to be unfaithful until they have had full sex with another person ? [...] "Then the husband decided he would confess to a one-night-stand." "One-night-stand?" "Yes : a one off occasion when he had sex with someone else, on a business trip or something. He felt guilty and wanted to clear the air. The wife then confessed to a short affair. It was the end of trust between them, and, in the end, in spite of everything they could do, the relationship broke down and they split up. If neither of them had ever said anything, they would probably have been alright." I'm not a prude, but I don't think this is a great message to be passing on at this early age (even if, or especially now that, Donald Trump has just been elected president !).
It's a real shame because the story in itself is well-written, exciting and definitely appealing to children of this age group. Given my doubts about some of the content, I wondered if it would be better suited to Sophie, but at 15, she'd find it too babyish. The author has spent many years working with children with special needs and deaf children and, as I also work with deaf children, I definitely think it's a great idea to present positive role models for children with disabilities, both for helping with the self-esteem of those concerned and also for informing children in general about what deaf or disabled people can and can't do - passages such as Charlie explaining to a well-meaning nurse who is speaking incredibly slowly to her that she finds it easier to lip-read if she speaks normally, for example, help to break down barriers and dispel widespread misconceptions.
I'd have to say, in conclusion, that I have mixed feelings. I love the character of Charlie and her friends (although I would have liked some able-bodied children to be in their group of friends, The Irregulars, too because it suggests that only children with a disability of some shape or form (deafness, autism, cerebral palsy) can be friends together) and the plot is exciting and believable. I would definitely like to see a suggested age range on the book as a guideline and, if I'm right in my assumption that it targets tweens and early teens, I would personally prefer to see a few of the ideas and language toned down.
star rating : 3.5/5
RRP : £12.99
Disclosure : I received a copy of the book in order to write an honest review.