Curse of the Night Wolf:By Paul Stewart; Illustrations: Chris Riddell, Doubleday, 205 pages, Rs325

Paul Stewart and his good friend, Chris Riddell, are back with a hair-raising story.

A tick-tock boy is one who runs errands. As Grimes explains: “A tick-tock lad is a sort of cross between a messenger and a delivery boy, only a tick-tock boy has to be faster than the first and twice as sharp as the second." To achieve that, Grimes has perfected the technique of high-stacking—skimming over rooftops, chimneys and gables for the shortest route to his destination.

To make a living, says Grimes, you cannot afford to waste time. Taking the streets and alleys is hopeless. Only cobblestone-creepers— indolent tick-tock lads who take no pride in their work—do so. If you want to get from A to B at top speed, you have to take the most direct route—over the rooftops. Because time is money, he points out.

Grimes is perfectly happy with his job till his good friend, old Benjamin, disappears, and he is attacked by a huge wolf on a rooftop during an assignment. The only clues that Grimes can go by are some bloodstains, an overturned horse cart that Benjamin drove and tufts of animal hair at the scene of the crime. Following a hunch, he reaches Theopholus Cadwallader, the doctor with a golden heart who hands out invigorating tonics to the poor—Benjamin being one among them—without charging a dime.

At Cadwallader’s, he meets the doctor’s friend, Madame Scutari, who makes a fortune selling the latest designer collars and cuffs made of Westphalian fur. Is there a sinister connection between the two? Is the doctor turning his patients into werewolves? What is the connection between Cadwallader and Klaus Johannes Westphale, the werewolf hunter who lived 90 years ago? Grimes has to find out before it is too late for him and the poor patients who swear by the good doctor’s tonic. As thriller-horrors go, this one is right up there with the best.

The werewolf returns

Graphic artist Riddell also does political cartoons for newspapers such as The Guardian, Observer and New Statesman. As a team, they work like a dream. As Stewart says on their website: “In the end, it means that we produce work that surprises us both. And that neither of us could have done on our own."

Riddell returns the compliment: “Often, illustrators don’t meet the writers whose work they illustrate. I think this is an opportunity missed." As a fan of Riddell and Stewart’s, I would certainly agree.

Try the Far Flung Adventures books too. Fergus Crane, Hugo Pepper and Corby Flood are not only prize winners, they are interesting too.

The writer is the editor of Heek (e-heek.com), a children’s magazine.

Write to lounge@livemint.com

Close