________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 32. . . .April 22, 2016


Neil Flambé and the Duel in the Desert. (The Neil Flambé Capers; 6).

Kevin Sylvester.
Toronto, ON: Simon & Schuster Canada, 2016.
296 pp., hardcover & eBook, $18.99 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-4814-1041-0 (hc.), ISBN 978-1-4814-1043-4 (eBook).

Subject Headings:
Mystery and detective stories.
Food trucks-Fiction.
Treasure maps-Fiction.
Ranch life-Fiction.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Todd Kyle.

*** /4



A very slight breeze came up. It carried a new smell, bat guano. No, not bat guano precisely, but something similar.

He hadn’t seen any sign of bats flying around. The smell was tweaking something.

“Bat guano, bat guano, bat guano,” he said to himself. It clicked.

Larry had been reading up on the Old West for their trip and had delighted in throwing gross facts Neil’s way.

Bat guano was used in the Old West to make saltpeter. And saltpeter, Larry had pointed out, was one of the main ingredients of gunpowder.

Neil sniffed again. It was incredibly faint, but he could smell, along with the guano, traces of sulfur and charred wood. Now he was sure of it. He was smelling some old style of gunpowder.


Teenage chef Neil Flambé returns for another adventure full of mystery, peril, zany characters, and culinary pursuits. With his restaurant closed, Neil and his cousin Larry decide to take a stab at running a food truck, travelling to the Broiling Man Festival in Arizona. There, they are caught up in an old mystery on the Salsa Verde Ranch whose owners are in peril of losing their ranch to developers unless they can find a gold mine discovered and abandoned by one of their ancestors. The two follow a twisting trail of clues, pursued by Sheriff Joe Aprende, a descendent of a rival family. After numerous dead ends and near-death experiences, the two finally locate the mine and save the day.

     Fans of the Neil Flambé mysteries will not be disappointed in this latest installment which seems to crank up the unlikely, the improbable, and the near-impossible to a new level. Neil is his usual reluctant, petulant, brilliant self, following his uncanny foodie sense (and sense of smell, as in the above excerpt), while Larry, assuming the role of his constant companion this time, continues to connect the most disparate facts together to keep the momentum going at every dead end, fuelled as usual by far too much coffee. The food details are mouth-watering, the cast of characters larger than life, and every scene is either intriguingly mysterious or nail-biting perilous.

     As with others in the series, the pieces of the mystery don’t always seem to fall into place with complete precision, but the only detail that seems to stand out as not being entirely explained is the role of Ira Hayes, the chef at a Grand Canyon lodge where they begin their search, following a river with a Native guide, Anna Silverheels, to their first dead end—a cave that others seem to have explored in their search for the mine. Neil and Larry are guided by an ancient map with culinary clues, and Hayes, knowing they are being pursued, plants a brilliant further clue by baking an upside-down skillet cake so as to eventually lead Neil to realize the map is being read upside-down. What is hard to fathom, though, is how Hayes figures this out—in fact, it is never made clear that Anna has even shared the map with him during their stay at the lodge.

     But, of course, the story is meant to be over-the-top. Aprende is a particular case in point—a sheriff who carries an ancient six-shooter powered by old-fashioned gunpowder, and who is consumed by a shocking sense of frontier justice. What young readers will not notice is the obvious similarities to contemporary Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio—obvious when Aprende is described by Larry as believing in chain gangs (the real Arpaio reinstituted chain gangs, along with forcing inmates to wear pink underwear). And in the most over-the-top moment, Neil Flambé and the Duel in the Desert ends with Neil, barely into the dénouement of making sure everyone is okay, finding that Larry has been kidnapped from his hospital room, his bed occupied by a cell phone with a photo of his family and friends all encased in ice—likely an awkward, and most infuriating, teaser of Neil’s next adventure. As always, this book is delicious, not for the faint of heart, and just a tad short of completely satisfying.


Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario and President of the Ontario Library Association.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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