Category: Children's Books

Kirsten Boie
Maja Bohn (Illustrator)

Thabo. Detektiv & Gentleman.
Der Nashorn-Fall. Band 1
[Thabo, Gentleman.
The Rhino Horn Murder]

Novel

Miss Marple sends her regards -
The adventures of a young private detective in South Africa

Oh yes, very British, indeed, even though Kirsten Boie happens to be a renowned German children's and young adult book author and her latest novel takes place in Africa. More precisely action centers in a wildlife reserve called Lion Park, which is located in a tiny, fictitious, presumably democratically run kingdom north of the South African Republic. Thabo, a vivacious and inquisitive young boy lives there. He does not reveal how old he is, but we are invited into his everyday life and his daydreams. In the first volume of the detective series, „Thabo – Detektiv & Gentleman,“ titled "Der Nashornfall,“ we are witness to the adventures the boy experiences in his private world as a black gentleman.

Surrounded by steppe and mountains, Thabo's manageably-sized world extends from the tourist lodge at the edge of the reserve, to the old British Lady Miss Agatha’s house, to his best friend Sifiso's hut, Debedebe’s police station, and the park ranger’s quarters. After his parents passed away, Thabo was taken in by his uncle Vusi, the park's head gamekeeper. Thabo's family history, however, is never discussed in the novel, though the author does mention in her afterword the many children in South Africa, whose parents have died of AIDS. Thabo's best friend also has no parents. Instead, he lives impoverished with his sister Hlahla, while taking care of two younger siblings. No wonder he isn’t always able to be a reliable companion to his friend Thabo, with whom he shares a passion no reader would ever suspect in this steppe landscape: the two want to be private detectives along the lines of a Kalle Blomquist in Kleinköping, or, even better: Miss Marple in St. Mary Mead.

And there we are, precisely where Kirsten Boie has been leading us. She has a keen sense of dramaturgy, style, a pitch-perfect knowledge of the milieus and, above all, an enormous amount of empathy. These qualities lend young people from age eight to twelve a sense of familiarity, regardless if they live in Germany, the UK or South Africa. This is due, of course, to the fact that the clever Thabo has been influenced by the blessings of Western civilization, despite the Safari tourists’ behavior, which he frequently regards with skepticism.

Ever since he had spent lazy evenings with the sympathetic Miss Agatha watching DVDs, he began imitating his version of a British gentleman or a British lady’s way of life. He particularly loves how the quirky Miss Marple solves tricky criminal cases with a logic all her own and her excellent sense of human nature makes the Chief Inspector look very old-fashioned.

Thabo believes these qualities can be transferred to the circumstances of Lion Park. After all, there’s an old lady living with Miss Agatha, who could be Miss Marple’s sister in spirit. And he has friends who share his interest: Sifiso and Emma, ​​Miss Agatha's niece, who goes to school in England but is presently visiting her mother, the head of the lodge. There is also a somewhat sleepy police chief in town. But where are the crimes?

No sooner said than done: a horrific incident occurs on the reserve. A rhino mother has been killed to sell the powdered horn as an alleged remedy. Outrageously, his uncle Vusi is arrested as a prime suspect. Thabo and his friends investigate full speed ahead. Not necessarily conventionally and - owing to their inexperience – it’s a bit too naively; nonetheless, they do it in the style of Miss Marple and her friend and helper Mr. Stringer. Whether the forensic search for traces ends at a dead-end, or the case is solved successfully, Kirsten Boie lets us roast for a long time as only the best of detective story authors are wont to do.
With this witty and suspenseful British-African detective story, the writer globalizes something that drives many kids during their adventure phase: the power of fantasy, which helps them penetrate, comprehend, and get a grip on reality—as a researcher, explorer, conqueror and bold hero, equipped with a sense of righteousness that may never motivate their actions to this degree again. - With a well-balanced mixture of fiction and reality, Kirsten Boie makes her fairly normal little hero accessible to young readers from diverse cultural circumstances (she even includes a short list of words from the Bantus language Siswati in the appendix). In so doing, she confirms an at times hesitant certainty: the children of this world have much more in common than we’d have suspected at first sight. Regardless whether it is a story from St. Mary Mead, Kleinköping or Debedebe. Oh yes, very international, indeed.
 
Siggi Seuß

By Siggi Seuß, 05.12.2016

​Siggi Seuß, freelance journalist, radio script writer and translator, has been writing reviews of books for children and young people for many years.

Translated by Zaia Alexander