Philip Ardagh, the smart, silly author of the Eddie Dickens trilogy (and often called the UK's answer to Lemony Snicket), kicks off another smart, silly series with The Fall of Fergal.
Between an internal-dialogue prologue and an early in-story, readers will quickly realize that the plot of Fergal will probably prove secondary to Ardagh's free-wheeling self-referential style. But how can you argue when you're having this much fun? Even as the book begins with its ending, Ardagh's strategy works as brilliantly as ever--and even includes a semi-sensible plot: young Le Fay McNally has reached the Tap 'n' Type Young Typist of the Year Grand Finals, and she hopes to smuggle her older sister, twin brothers, and one younger brother into the luxurious Dell hotel to watch her compete. The poor, put-upon, ill-fed McNally kids reel at the poshness of the Dell, and comedy ensues as Le Fay first sneaks her siblings into the hotel, then begins meeting her competitors (including the hilariously illustrated and described Graham Large: "the hair--my God, the hair--that was most shocking of all. Thick, dark brown, and swept back into an enormous quiff, it was so stiff that it looked more like spun sugar....She'd never met such a sweet-smelling, softy-skinned, quiffy person in shorts before").
Between his knowing asides, Ardagh squeezes in a few other hilarious characters--including chief hotel detective Capt. Twinkle-Toes Tweedy (Retd.) and voluminously mustachioed ventriloquist and beat poet Hieronymus Peach--before the white-knuckle Tap 'n' Type finals and the book's climactic ending (which, if you'll remember, came at the book's beginning). Fans and soon-to-be fans of Ardagh will be glad to hear him confide that there's much, much more in store for the McNallys: "There are three books in this series, and something has to happen in the other two!" (Ages 9 to 12) --Paul Hughes
From School Library Journal
Grade 4-6–"The very last words young Fergal McNally heard in his life were: 'Don't lean out of that window!'" It's a great hook for a dark tale that begins with the end and works its way backward, but the device is not entirely successful. Widowed Captain McNally is a former sailor and war hero who has turned to drinking. His oldest daughter, Jackie, takes care of her four siblings. When Le Fay wins a spot in the national grand finals for a typing competition, Jackie devises a plan for the other children to attend the event; they will sneak into Le Fay's hotel room. After uncovering a plot by another competitor to cheat her out of the championship, Fergal tragically falls to his death. When the detective sees the remaining children in the hotel room, he notices a resemblance between them and an old sailor who once saved his life. A strange twist at the end leads the way to the next book in the series. Dropping prophetic hints throughout, Ardagh ties the loose ends together nicely and talks to readers in a series of asides. Unfortunately, the sequencing of the story, starting with Fergal, skipping back to introduce the characters and tell the story, occasionally fast forwarding again, is distracting and results in a fragmented narrative. Ardagh's dark sense of humor is particularly evident in his graphic description of Fergal's fall and subsequent trip to the morgue. The pen-and-ink line drawings are eerily sinister and somewhat disturbing. This British author's dry, off-the-wall wit will appeal to a limited audience.–Kit Vaughan, Chesterfield County Public Schools, VA
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