Named one of “25 authors of the future” by Waterstone Books in May 2007, Siobhan Dowd passed away two months later.
If she hadn’t fallen prey to cancer, who knows what might have been?
Dowd’s second novel, which was published in late 2007, The London Eye Mystery, is a thriller. Ted and Kat’s cousin, Salim, comes down for a visit with his mother before they relocate to New York. The trouble starts when, as all good tourists do, Salim wants to visit London Eye, the city’s most popular Ferris wheel and observation tower — shaped like a giant wheel that revolves — with capsules that people can get into and enjoy a 360-degree view of the city. The three of them go off to climb the Eye when a stranger offers them a ticket.
Instead of waiting his turn in the serpentine queue, Salim accepts the ticket and gets into one of the capsules while his cousins wait on the ground. It turns out to be a long, long wait as Salim disappears almost into thin air. The last glimpse that Ted and Kat have of Salim is when he waves before entering the capsule. It is up to Ted, who is afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome, and Kat to explain the disappearance as the police and family cannot figure out what could have happened.
Ted’s brain ticks over furiously as he comes up with theory after theory that could help solve the mystery. He sets about reconstructing the scene with Kat’s help. But their bafflement only grows as the hours pass. How did Salim disappear from inside a sealed capsule that was 135m from the ground?
Among the many theories floated is Ted’s conviction that Salim combusted spontaneously. Their Aunt Gloria (Salim’s mother) believes that he has been kidnapped. The entire family, however, has the unexpressed fear — that Salim is dead. The only clues Ted and Kat can go on are that Salim likes heights and that he has a mysterious friend in London.
Dowd’s characters are fleshed out vividly. The fact that Ted has Asperger is not thrust down the reader. The only references made are when the author describes the boy’s uncanny head for figures, his ability to understand unknown weather conditions, and interest in shipping forecasts.
It is a surprise for the entire family when Ted comes up with as many as nine theories about Salim’s vanishing act, and the astonishment is sealed when Ted solves the mystery that has foxed everyone.
London Eye is pure childlike adventure with a touch of the unusual. It is a far cry from Dowd’s first book, A Swift Pure Cry, a story about 15-year-old Shell, who tries to come to terms with life after her mother’s death. A Swift… deals with teen pregnancy, poverty, wealth and the dominance of the church; London Eye reiterates the fact that Dowd was cut out to be a great storyteller. Unfortunately, time was too short.
After her death, the Siobhan Dowd Trust was set up to help disadvantaged children in the UK and Ireland discover and experience the joy of reading. It offers financial support to public libraries, state school libraries (especially in economically challenged areas), asylum seekers, young offenders and children with special needs. Her debut novel was shortlisted for the Guardian Children’s Fiction prize.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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