In the Wolf’s Lair
by Anna Starobinets
If Tim Burton wrote mysteries for children…
They would probably read a lot like In the Wolf’s Lair. There are a lot of visual and verbal plays, a very weird and twisted sense of humor, a mystery spiked with more humor and the grotesque, and so, so many stereotypes… The normal tropes are smashed on their ear by the animals that give them voice. Perhaps not real animals… In fact, I’m pretty sure Badgercat was played by Johnny Depp and Benedict Cumberbatch was Badger. (Oh, wait, this wasn’t live action or animated? Why did I have all those weird visuals going? I guess I shouldn’t have read this so close to bedtime!)
The dogged and relentless police chief of Far Woods is a badger, his cockeyed sidekick assistant is a cat who thinks he’s a badger (he’s actually an adopted badger), the victim’s a rabbit, the litigious lawyers are owls, the violent predatory suspects are a wolf and a coyote, and so on. Characters sip mothitos (get you tipsy) and nom on beetles (unless they’re holding white flags), porcini mushrooms (taste like meat), and other non-animal victuals and keep a law that keeps them from eating each other. All that peace ends when Rabbit is murdered, his blood-spattered fur and bones found testifying to a violent end in someone’s stomach. Can they discover who killed Rabbit and gnawed his bones clean?
There’s social media (Frogbook Messenger), television via the root network, frivolous lawsuits, suspects on the lam, underfunded police, and all the usual shenanigans in this twisted tale of greed and deception. While children will be fascinated by all the action, adults will decipher the underlying satire and social commentary and snicker. The mystery is actually very well done and all the crazed goings-on around the fringe make it look easy. The illustrations are stylized and vibrant, lending yet another quirk to a very quirky endeavor. Just a lot of weird fun. (Did I mention Tim Burton?)
Sing it with me now:
“We’re owls, owls, owls!
We’ll go on the prowl
to find what’s afoul.
And we’ll sue, sue, sue,
all for you, you, you!
The mystery wraps up satisfactorily and there’s a lead-in to the next story as In the Wolf’s Lair is first in a series by the author, Anna Starobinets.
Highly recommended for fans of Tim Burton, twisted fairy tales, and very quirky mysteries.
I received this book as a digital Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from the publisher through NetGalley. My opinions are my own.
Life in the Far Woods tends to be tranquil because the animal denizens are strictly forbidden to kill (or eat!) one another. An elderly detective, Chief Badger, oversees the community and solves its petty crimes, from stolen pine cones to plucked tail feathers. His restless assistant, Badgercat, longs for some excitement — a desperate crime, a beastly crime! The brash youngster’s hopes are realized when some croaking frogs reveal the shocking news of Rabbit’s murder. Wolf appears to be the most likely culprit, because — duh — he’s a lone wolf without an alibi, but Badger refuses to jump to conclusions. With the help of Vulture the crime scene investigator, Mouse the psychologist, brave witness Beetlebug Buck, and other curious creatures, the woodland detectives set out to discover the truth.
Newly translated from the original Russian, this fancifully illustrated volume is the first of a Beastly Crimes Books to come from this imaginative mystery series geared toward middle-grade readers. Look for the sequel, A Predator’s Rights, also available from Dover Publications.