Rita Wong and the Jade Mask by Mark Jones
Rita Wong leads an ordinary existence sipping hot chocolate in Morecambe. That is until a dragon called Lester Thyme crosses her path. He leads her to a place known as Neon City where the streets are dark with magic. Between the two of them, Lester and Rita become detectives for hire. Their case involves stolen goods, and will see them meet femme fatales, crime bosses and a whole host of monsters. Although amateurs in the crime detection business, Rita and Lester will need to learn fast if they want to survive the week. A fast detective story set in a landscape studded with danger, the unexpected and lots of humour.
Rita Wong and the Jade mask is an unusual story, it is quirky and full of character. It is a detective story but it is set in a world inhabited by dragons, werewolves and vampires amongst others. They live in a place called Neon City which is a city that occupies a place in space and time outside of our own world. It can be accessed from the human world, as Rita Wong, the title character finds out when she follows a dragon one day which she spots whilst drinking hot chocolate in a café in Morecambe.
Once Rita enters Neon City she is drawn into a world of intrigue and mystery with a spate of robberies taking place across the city. These seem to be highly specific and targeted; the first she comes across is of four antique swords from an antique shop full of valuable goods. It is here that Rita teams up with the dragon, Lester Thyme who has a talent for observation. The two decide to try and find the culprit of the crimes and set up to become private detectives.
What follows is an entertaining, strange and sometimes complex detective story which occasionally shifts perspective between the various characters that play a main part until they finally converge at the conclusion of the mystery.
I enjoyed this story, it felt like a cross between Raymond Chandler and Neil Gaiman. It was a strange mix but it worked. In fact, Raymond Chandler and Humphrey Bogart are name checked in the story so I have a feeling that the nods towards classic noir detective fiction were deliberate.
The real star of the show is not Rita Wong, as the title would suggest, instead it is Lester Thyme the dragon. He takes on the main detective role and for a large part of the story the chapters focus solely on him. He is an engaging character; he is clever and observant but has a sense of naivety about him that is in contrast to the usual hard bitten cynical detective that you might find in this sort of story.
The story is complex and has laid the foundations for further adventures and a larger story arc with the shadowy figures pulling the strings in the background, at the same time the mystery drops enough clues to engage the reader into trying to figure out what is going on alongside Lester and Rita.
This story is quirky and fun and is an interesting take on the detective genre. It is a promising debut by Mark Strong and I will be interested to see where he goes from here. I am sure plenty of children would enjoy reading it, it could be a nice introduction to the genre. I would recommend this book for children aged 8 and over.
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