#1033: Minor Felonies – Montgomery Bonbon: Murder at the Museum (2023) by Alasdair Beckett-King [ill. Claire Powell]

Right, time to furrow the brow and get serious.

Back in June 2020, I had the pleasure of discussing detective fiction’s similarities with comedy with comedian Alasdair Beckett-King for a podcast episode, since which time — in a turn of events many refer to as “having absolutely nothing to do with you, Jim” — Beckett-King has gone on to become something of a rising star on TV and radio. And now, to complete the triple-threat quota, he’s also a published author, with Montgomery Bonbon: Murder at the Museum (2023) the first in a new series of detective stories aimed at younger readers. And, honestly, it just might be the most delightfully, joyously ridiculous time I’ve spent between the covers of a book for ages.

10 year-old Bonnie Montgomery isn’t, of course, the world’s greatest detective, but she frequently finds herself in situations where, due to some freak of happenstance, Bonnie Montgomery vanishes from existence and the beret-sporting, moustachioed Montgomery Bonbon suddenly appears and proceeds to conduct investigations in his “unidentifiable foreign accent” (Bonnie having learned “from wobbly old Sunday afternoon movies…that the best detectives were always from Somewhere Else.”). For Montgomery Bonbon is simply a 10 year-old girl in a beret and a false moustache, and the acceptance of this piece of literary legerdemain is only the first of many wonderfully playful conceits that Beckett-King will throw at you in the ensuing 280 pages.

So when Bonnie and her grandfather Grampa Banks are at the Hornville Museum in Widdlington and the lights go out as preface to a scream and a crash, it’s only a matter of moments before Mongomery Bonbon and his faithful assistant Banks are hurtling up the stairs to a room found locked on the inside and containing a) a dead body and b) not the famous, hugely valuable Widdlington Eagle which has been stolen and apparently spirited away through the open window. From here it’s simply a madcap chase around Widdlington and neighbouring Widdling-on-Sea as Bonbon and Banks aim to beat the Mr. Goon-alike Inspector Sands to the perpetrator, via plenty of interviews, an instance of caterpillar-based disguise, and just about every trope in the (hugely enjoyable) book.

Beckett-King’s grounding in comedy unsurprisingly results in some fabulous turns of phrase…

Bonnie had noticed that British people tended to be impressed by Americans, for no particular reason. They were also impressed by tall people and people who owned a treehouse. A tall American with their own treehouse could get away with murder.

…but what I particularly enjoyed is how the jokes are folded in so neatly to descriptions or exposition, so that we’re not simply holding up the narrative in order to get a few cheap giggles in, be it note-perfect character descriptions…

He [had] one of those small triangular beards that make people worry the wearer is about to do a card trick.

…scene setting…

St. Hilaria’s was one of those crooked old buildings that seemed to have been built by nine people who all hated one another.

…or local attitudes and rivalries…

The residents of Widdling would rather fight seagull than be caught reading [Widdling-on-Sea’s newspaper] the Bugle. Similarly, the denizens of Widdling-on-Sea would rather fight a seagull than read [Widdlington’s newspaper] The Widdler, because they love fighting.

Equally, the sprinkled references to the tropes of detective fiction, from the Great Detective’s inability to get through a day without stumbling over a corpse, the delight at hearing the words “locked from the inside” when discovering said body in a room, and the Sherlock Holmes reference thrown in as an aside at the end of one chapter show that Beckett-King is here for more than just a few easy jokes thrown about at detective fiction’s expense. You’re not supposed to take this too seriously, as is made even clearer in the moment things become very self-referential indeed, but those adults among you willing to give it a go can rest assured that there’s a good understanding of the detective in fiction at the back of all this japery.

We should also acknowledge the hugely energetic and expertly-judged illustrations by Claire Powell which fill out the text wonderfully. The book must stand alone without them, of course, but it’s clear that Powell is completely on board with the tone Beckett-King is going for, a sort of Douglas-Adams-via-Famous-Five vibe which keeps the illustrations light, striking, full of useful information that help keep Bonbon’s investigation clear for younger readers, and full of excellent visual humour.

In recent years I’ve been a champion of the Adventures on Trains series by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, which are expertly illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, and Powell’s work here is just as integral to the book as an experience. How very fortunate the young readers of today are, having not just creative authors working hard to produce entertaining genre pieces that are firmly rooted in the conventions of ‘older’ books that can be discovered and enjoyed in the years ahead, but also supremely talented and hard-working illustrators whose work should be recognised as integral to the novels they adorn, much as I grew up in the era of Roald Dahl’s partnering with Quentin Blake.

Indeed, the visual representation of this — with scenes in darkness described via white text on a black background, and a positive abundance of onomatopoeic fonts — shows how much care has gone into its preparation, and is greatly appreciated. Yes, for the adults among you (I know my audience; anyone reading this is either an adult or an internet bot scouring for financial information) this might sound a little juvenile, but then it is a book written for kids, and the linear structure of the mystery echoes that, with a series of clearly-delineated interviews slowly narrowing the focus until the perpetrator is identified and some simple misdirection tidily explained (kudos for the use of “twung”, by the way). It would be easy to overlook how difficult it must be to maintain the energy of this sort of undertaking, but Beckett-King really has done a marvellous job of keeping it light, fast, and fresh-feeling while mixing in good jokes, smooth prose, and just enough of the ridiculous to prevent you ever considering that this might actually be quite difficult to do.

And, importantly, it’s a very enjoyable mystery, with some playfully droll clues (come on, “IE” and “61” aren’t meant to fool anyone) which doesn’t seek to squirm out of the small matter of murder and theft come its conclusion, and stirs in some canny ideas along the way — a suspect with a familiar voice, a piece of open-handed clewing which points the finger squarely in one direction if you’re looking for it (and of course you are), a bit of linguistic Oh I Really Should have Heard That Differently (always a favourite of mine, up there with A Letter Which Changes Meaning When Read From The Correct Perspective). I mean, sure, don’t come to this expecting Ellery Queen-esque dissections on The Dying Message (“Thank God,” the sensible proportion of you proclaim), but if you’re willing to accept that a bunch of adults will buy a 10 year-old in a fake moustache as a genius detective then, well, you’re exactly the person this was written for.

A second one is due out in October, too. Most exciting news, mein ami.


The Montgomery Bonbon series by Alasdair Beckett-King

  1. Murder at the Museum (2023)
  2. Death at the Lighthouse (2023)

One thought on “#1033: Minor Felonies – Montgomery Bonbon: Murder at the Museum (2023) by Alasdair Beckett-King [ill. Claire Powell]

  1. I’ve recently gotten into children’s mysteries. This book sounds like a lot of fun and it appears to poke fun of mystery tropes. Can’t wait to read it.


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