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Friday, May 6, 2011

'A Pocketful of Eyes' by Lili Wilkinson

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From the BLURB:

Bee is in her element working in the taxidermy department at the Museum of Natural History, but her summer job turns out to be full of surprises:

A dead body in the Red Rotunda. A mysterious Museum benefactor. A large stuffed tiger in the Catacombs. A handsome boy with a fascination for unusual animal mating habits.
And a pocketful of glass eyes.

Can Bee sift through the clues to discover whether her mentor really committed suicide ... or is there a murderer in their midst?

Beatrice May Ross is one peculiar teenager. Beatrice ‘Bee’ is interning at the Melbourne Natural History Museum’s Department of Preparation over the holidays. Because Bee enjoys taxidermy – reanimating an animal with pins, glass eyes and careful stitching. Bee loves taxidermy almost as much as she loves a good mystery – everything from Trixie Belden to Agatha Christie and Janet Evanovich (anything but that primly perfect Nancy Drew. Bee can’t stand that sickeningly sweet do-gooder).

So Bee is oddly fascinated when not one, but two mysteries fall into her lap! The first is the mystery of the new boy in the taxidermy lab – Toby. Toby is a university student working at the museum for extra credit and to satiate his dreams of becoming a zoologist. Bee is disturbingly fascinated by Toby, while also annoyingly flustered by his know-it-all banter and tiger-riding.

The second mystery is far less rom-com and more Holmes-esque. Because the second mystery involves a dead body . . . Bee and Toby’s supervisor, Gus, is found dead in the taxidermy department’s Catacombs. The police are quick to write Gus’s death off as a suicide, but Bee and Toby suspect foul-play.

Bee is a girl who loves a good mystery and has dreamed of her very own Scooby-gang adventure. But when a real-life whodunit needs solving, Bee discovers that death isn’t as glamorous as Arthur Conan Doyle would have us believe. . .

‘A Pocketful of Eyes’ is a new cozy YA mystery from Australian author Lili Wilkinson.

I loved this book! Lili Wilkinson has written an entertaining and daring novel that’s both a great addition to YA and a thrilling mystery whodunit.

Bee is a fantastic leading lady and girl detective. She’s not your typical teenager – she genuinely enjoys spending her summer holidays ‘mounting’ animals and she’d much rather read P.D. James than go out clubbing. She’s sort of geek-chic fabulous and a wonderful heroine. Bee is a complex character and interesting to decipher. She is partly using her taxidermy internship as a means to avoid an uncomfortable break-up and impending friendship disaster. She reads hard-boiled, gruesome detective novels but still believes in her heart of hearts that the world is more harmless, like in a Stephanie Plum or Nancy Drew novel. I really liked Bee and could relate to her inner mystery nerd.

The book is peppered with a cast of quirky-cool characters. Like Bee’s mother; a Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast who is embarking on a romance with her mystical badger-buddy (recently turned into a human man called Neal). Toby is an equally fascinating PG13 paramour – he is full of random tid-bits and crazy factoids. Toby’s constant stream of ‘did you know?’ makes for funny and interesting reading. For instance, I have learnt that an emu’s hips are anatomically the closest thing in the animal kingdom to a human’s. The human vagina is anatomically closest to a sheep’s. And that most snails are hermaphrodites. I loved all of these slices of general knowledge – they have that ‘random coolness’ factor while also being totally plausible pieces of repartee between characters who just so happen to work in a taxidermy lab.

I did love the mystery in ‘Pocketful’. For starters, the setting of a taxidermy lab is ingenious and creepy (all those sightless eyes, staring!) and the lab’s catacombs make for an eerie backdrop. The red-herrings and clues are brilliant – like the lizard eyes found in the dead man’s pocket. Wilkinson uses some wonderful Christie-esque settings and symbolisms throughout the novel, shaping it into a truly elusive whodunit.

The book is quite tongue-in-cheek. Bee is aware of how surreal her life is becoming, while also indecently excited by the prospect of living out a real-life murder mystery with herself in the starring role. As a lover of mysteries myself, I completely understood Bee’s guilty-fascination and sick pleasure in investigating her co-workers supposed suicide. And I loved that Wilkinson kept making pop-culture and literary references to the many mystery greats who shaped Bee’s quirky outlook on life (I especially loved one Veronica Mars reference);
Bee shook her head. “This is serious stuff. A guy is dead.”
This was what she had spent her whole life wishing for: a real mystery, with clues and suspicious circumstances, and the police refusing to get involved. It was all there, waiting for her. But she should walk away. The police would figure it out.
“Okay, fine,” said Toby. “But what would you do next, just for argument’s sake?”
“If it wasn’t real life. If you were Nancy Drew or Sherlock Holmes or whoever. WWPD?”
“What Would Poirot Do?”
A Pocketful of Eyes’ is a strange and suave YA mystery novel. I could actually see Lili Wilkinson turning Bee Ross into a veritable Trixie Belden (I wouldn’t dare compare her to Nancy Drew!). ‘A Pocketful of Eyes’ could conceivably be the first book in a new and long-running YA mystery series. I definitely get the impression from ‘Pocketful’ that Bee liked her first taste of real-life murder-mystery; I think she’ll be unable to stop at just one, she might need to get another whodunit fix. I also think that murder mysteries are sadly lacking in the YA genre – there hasn’t really been a new Nancy Drew or Famous Five on the scene for quite some time . . . I think Wilkinson might just be the new Agatha Christie for the younger set, and Bee Ross our new girl detective!



  1. Great review, I'm looking forward to reading this one. I really like detective/mystery novels but it is a genre that is sadly lacking in YA. I hope there will be more released in the future.

    I've just finished reading Dangerously Placed by Nansi Kunze which is along the same kind of lines.

  2. Ohhh, glad to see others who loved this as much as I did! Hope there are more books to come.


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