Author: Rohan Gavin
Originally Published by Bloomsbury Publishing in 2014
Review by Miriam Atkinson
Of all the reviews I wrote for the online magazine Cuckoo Review between 2015-2018 this one was perhaps the hardest to write. I was still relatively new to the team when I selected Rohan Gavin’s Knightley & Son to review and was wary of submitting a largely negative piece. As I result the review I actually submitted was not my true opinion. So, round two, let’s see if I’m happier with this effort.
Honesty time – I did not enjoy reading Knighley & Son BUT (and this is an important ‘but’ hence the capital letters) I truly believe that the reason I did not enjoy the book is not because it is a bad novel but because as a twenty year old woman I was completely the wrong target audience for the book.
Knightley & Son is a successful book which has spawned two follow-on novels in the form of Knightley & Son: K-9 and Knighley & Son: 3 of a Kind. The books are aimed at teens and young adults. Although I am sure that people of all ages and genders enjoy these books, after reading the first novel I personally believe that teenage boys aged between 11 and 15 are the true target audience.
The novel was published when the popular TV show Sherlock was still on our screens and Gavin uses this new interest and momentum in the Sherlock Holmes detective genre to create a young Sherlock-esque story. As a new fan myself I was initially excited to read the novel.
A genuine positive now, I was pleased when the book wasted no time with build-up and got straight into the action. The novel begins with private investigator Alan Knightley awakening from an unexplained four-year-long coma while his thirteen year old son Darkus must try to piece his father’s fragmented memory back together. The plot of Knightley & Son weaves the theme of rediscovering family bonds around a bizarre case of a book which seemingly causes its readers to commit crimes. All the while the characters are in danger as agents from a shadowy organisation known as The Combination close in around them.
I must give credit to Rohan Gavin for creating such a memorable character in protagonist Darkus Knightley. With a liking for tweed attire, Darkus has an incredible, near perfect, memory that houses every fact and figure he has ever come across. It is unusual to find a young character with such a logical way of thinking yet, coupled with Darkus’ innocent view of right and wrong, Gavin creates someone who is capable of being both young and old at heart.
The three main characters are: Alan Knightley, Darkus and Darkus’ determined yet emotion-driven step-sister Tilly. These are the characters that I, as the reader, am supposed to root for. My problem was that I really disliked the character of Alan. Alan has a cold analytical mind and does not come across as having the same human warmth as other characters. He is a more extreme version of Darkus and when the pair interact with other characters they both adopt a cold, condescending view of the people around them and how unintelligent they must be.
Alright maybe that was Gavin’s intention – that Darkus becomes more like his father when they are together producing in a stronger imitation of him. It’s possible. But where the novel completely lost me was when Alan, Darkus and Tilly witness a man being run over and killed. Remember that Darkus and Tilly are young teenagers. Tilly gets upset at what she had just seen so Alan verbally attacks her and sends her home because she’s being emotional and refusing to act/think rationally – after she has just watched a man die. Darkus agrees with his father and Tilly is sent away she the next portion of the story. My sympathy in this chapter was with Tilly but after she was sent away I was now left with the problem of having to follow the journey of now two main characters I did not like in this moment. This idea of a ‘boys only club’ and ‘girls are too emotional’ is why I think the novel’s target audience is specifically teenage boys.
The heart of this story is the father-son relationship between Darkus and Alan. After four years apart they must rebuild and relearn forgotten bonds. I’ll admit it was fun to see the two initially at odds as each believed they could solve the case better than the other. At the end of the novel father and son accept the value and knowledge they each bring and for many readers I’m sure this was a rewarding heart-felt moment. But for me Alan was such an extreme character that he was too unbelievable and too unrealistic for me to feel a connection to and as a result I was not left with the feeling that he was/would be a positive role model for Darkus (even though the book was pushing me to believe otherwise).
I truly believe that Darkus is a unique and interesting character and had the story just been about him and Tilly trying to solve the mystery (with no father figures involved) I think I would have liked it a lot more.
*This review is based on my original Knightley and Son book review which was published by the online magazine Cuckoo Review in November 2015*