I never judge a book by the publicity spin that accompanies it. This one came with the line: ‘for readers of Jonathan Safran Foer and Craig Silvey’. Given the story concerns an 11-year-old boy, I rolled my eyes at the lazy marketing hook. Set in 1959 and narrated by an unnamed boy, the story opens on the day of his twin brother’s funeral. A year later we find him exploring the streets and lanes near his Richmond home. Inspired by his heroes from comic books, radio and TV serials, he fancies himself a brave explorer, which leads him to witness a brutal murder. He decides to map his travels in order to avoid the murder house, but as his travels widen, his adventures grow more dangerous. To combat his rising fear he creates an unflappable alter-ego: The Cartographer. Our hero is an amusing and likeable character, his speech littered with racetrack phrasing and noir references. He is supported by an eclectic and intriguing cast of characters, no more so than his wheeling, dealing grandfather. So I was wrong about the marketing hook. If, like me, you enjoyed Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, you are going to want to read this book, as I suspect a lot of people will.
Paul Landymore is a former bookseller based in Brisbane. This review first appeared in the Summer issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.