Siobhan Dowd: The London Eye Mystery
Introduction by Robin Stevens
Penguin 2016 (2007)
Here’s a wonderful variation on the locked-room mystery: how can a boy who is seen to enter a pod on the famous London Eye wheel somehow disappear when the pod docks again half an hour later? Salim’s cousins, Ted and Kat, are left baffled, as are his estranged parents and Ted and Kat’s parents, not to mention the police. But by coming up with hypotheses for that disappearance and evaluating them, and by some clever underhand sleuthing, Ted and Kat slowly inch towards a solution; the worry is that, as time goes on, finding Salim will come too late to save him.
On the surface this sounds like a run-of-the-mill adventure story where children prove more than the equals of the police in solving a mystery. But The London Eye Mystery is not your average juvenile crime novel: there is a grounding in reality, in the hopes and fears of family life, in the recklessness that sometimes typifies adolescence, and in aspects of the mental processes someone on the autism spectrum may go through.
Ted Spark has what used to be called Asperger Syndrome, sometimes referred to as high functioning autism, but the boundaries are blurred and the terms even disputed (Asperger’s is no longer even an official designation in psychiatry), while those on the spectrum are often apt not to see it as a disorder but typically call themselves neurodiverse. However we view Ted, he displays many traits of those on the autism spectrum, from difficulties with social interaction, anxiety (often manifesting as repetitive behaviours, or ‘stimming’), sensory overload (from distracting noises and activities) and so-called ‘special interests’ (in Ted’s case, climatology).
His obsession with patterns and logical thinking earns him the respect of Detective Inspector Pierce when Ted starts to join the dots, though he does have a hard time persuading his family of his suspicions and conclusions. Aided and abetted by his older sister, Kat — though she’s not without her doubts as to his reasoning — he works out what happened at the London Eye and why, and then what happened next. The famous (though often misquoted) dictum of Sherlock Holmes in The Sign of Four — “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” — is ever Ted’s principle, and luckily Kat is prepared to race across the capital to chase up Ted’s insights.
This is a lovely novel with satisfying outcomes. Despite overtones of Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple in the meme of the amateur arriving at the solution, this is as much an exploration of family dynamics and individuals within them as it is a classical mystery. Robin Stevens’ introduction for this edition gives us the background to the novel, published in the year of the author’s premature death from cancer; all the royalties from The London Eye Mystery go to the Siobhan Dowd Trust which helps bring books and the joy of reading to disadvantaged children, including those in care.
2018 Ultimate Book Challenge: as I go to London most years I shall count this as a book set somewhere I’ll visit this year