Fish-out-of water Casper is 'straight man' in a mad world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am


Casper Candlewacks in Death by Pigeon
By Ivan Brett
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 978 000741559

It's refreshing when a book comes along with the sole purpose of making you laugh. Readers need a good chuckle every now and again to lighten up the mood after all the serious stuff that weighs down bookshop shelves.

In Ivan Brett's first Casper Candlewacks story is - at last - a teen hero surrounded by infectious silliness. Only readers that have had their sense of humour surgically removed will be immune to Casper's appeal.

Casper is the straight man trying to get some order and sense from a zany and ever-increasingly stupid world. He has the misfortune to live in a village surrounded by people that don't know common sense and reasonable behaviour from a cream pie in the face. Most villages, classrooms and offices have at least one idiot or incompetent turning normal life into chaos; Casper's home village, Corne-on-the-Kobb, is full of them. Casper is an outsider because he has the usual number of brain cells, which makes life particularly difficult for him.

Brett's set-up for Death by Pigeon is simple, but very effective. Young Casper is a fish out of water, and this gives Brett ample scope for piling on the madness and coming up with characters and situations that normal people find highly amusing. It will make you thankful it's Casper and not you that has to put up with such inanity.

Casper is bullied at school by both pupils and teachers, who see him as abnormal because he can spell, read sentences with more than three words in them and recite his times-tables. His teacher, Mrs Snagg, is a comically unpleasant character worthy of the late, great Roald Dahl.

Casper's best friend - or rather the only boy in the village who speaks to him - is called Lamp, and he is obsessed with inventing things that are always an unmitigated disaster. Lamp's inventions and choice of clothing are a constant source of laughter throughout the book.

Brett keeps Death by Pigeon firmly on the laughter track by giving the novel a plot as crazy as the characters and situations. He is very careful to bring the whole thing together as a novel and not just leave it as one comic situation after another. A visiting magician curses Corne-on-the-Kobb with a series of outlandish epic disasters. Casper's father is blamed and sentenced to death by pigeon. It is up to Casper to prove his father innocent and get the magician to remove the curse. Cue chaos, mayhem, a bit of suspense and lots of sniggers and laughs.

Brett is a new comic voice in the sometimes too-serious world of teen fiction, and he is highly welcome. He is an imaginative writer of situation comedy, but also a master of clever puns and amusing wordplay. Casper's adventure is written for tweens, but any reader aged nine and up with a sense of humour will enjoy this cracking read. Laugh out loud, but do not feed the pigeons!

John Millen can be contacted on