If we gave out awards for Most Misleading Cover Art, today would go down as the day Josh Berk's The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin passed the torch: Andreas Steinhöfel's novel The Spaghetti Detectives might look like a PBS cartoon aimed at pre-schoolers, but it reads like a junior version of Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Originally written in German and translated by Chantal Wright, The Spaghetti Detectives is told via the meandering narration of Rico Doretti, a boy with an unspecified learning disability that severely limits his ability to focus. While investigating the origins of a stray spaghetti noodle found outside his apartment, Rico meets a paranoid child genius named Oscar. The boys couldn't be more different, but they form an instant, oddball connection—and when Oscar becomes the latest victim of a notorious child kidnapper, Rico is determined to find his new friend.
The Spaghetti Detectives is endearingly weird, atmospheric, and frequently very funny, but that cheery cover and wholesome tagline (“They've got to use their noodles!”) is a total bait-and-switch. While children will probably find this story less disturbing than this adult reviewer, this is still a novel that boasts passages like the following:
"Mr. 2000 has been keeping everybody in Berlin on the edge of their seats for three months. On television they said he was probably the most cunning child kidnapper of all time. Some people call him the ALDI kidnapper, after the cut-price supermarket, because his ransoms are so low. He lures little boys and girls into his car and drives off with them, and afterward he writes their parents a letter:See what I mean? That cover is doing this well-written, original mystery no favors: middle readers (and older kids) will be turned off by the cartoonish artwork, and little kids will be stuck reading a book they're too young to appreciate.
DEAR PARENTS: IF YOU WOULD LIKE LITTLE CLAUDIA BACK, IT WILL COST YOU ONLY 2000 EUROS. THINK CAREFULLY BEFORE GETTING THE POLICE INVOLVED OVER SUCH A RIDICULOUSLY SMALL SUM, BECAUSE IF YOU DO, YOUR CHILD WILL COME BACK TO YOU PIECE BY PIECE.
Up until now none of the parents have told the police until after they had paid up and their child popped up safe. But everybody in Berlin is waiting for the day when some little Claudia or Alexander doesn't come home in one piece because their parents have messed up. Maybe some people would be secretly happy that their child had been kidnapped and wouldn't cough up a penny. Or they might be really poor and only have fifty euros to their name. If you only gave Mr. 2000 fifty euros, it's likely that the only piece left of your child would be a hand. It would be less noticeable. And a giant box for everything-minus-the-hand would cost fifty euros in postage all by itself."
Review based on publisher-provided copy.