In this debut novel, a young spy must thwart an international art theft while saving the family business.
Twelve-year-old Simone LaFray lives in Paris with her father, sister, and (often absent) mother. Simone’s mom is the top agent for France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Simone is following in her footsteps, but she also helps her dad in the kitchen of LaFray’s Patisserie—the family business established by her great-great-great-grandfather. Simone is a quiet child; she reads a lot and dislikes attention. Even her best (and only) friend, “The V,” proves too much company for her except in small doses. Simone is obsessively punctual and compulsively observant. Mature for her age, she is at once a rather dour big sister, a dutiful and responsible daughter, and a preternaturally talented analyst. With her mom out of the country, Simone is tasked with her first field assignment: tracking down world-renowned thief la Volpe Rossa (the Red Fox) before he can steal a valuable painting from the Musée d’Orsay. The Fox is a master of concealment, identifiable only by his bright red hair. He should be as unknown to Simone as she is to him. Is it a coincidence, then, that she spies a red-haired stranger staking out the patisserie? When the precious family recipe books are stolen, Simone must use all of her intellect—and overcome some of her inhibitions—to put things right. O’Farrell has crafted a bright, breezy middle-grade romp, light on the mystery element but uplifted by its Paris setting and a splendid cast of characters. Some of these are larger than life—The V and Simone’s sister, for instance—but not too much so. Simone’s dad is an authentic parental figure (while still every bit the hapless but brilliant chocolatier), and she is a protagonist whom young readers will take to heart. Her everyday positive qualities are manifest, as are her differences, and the author has her succeed because of who she is, not in spite of it. Narrated in the first person, the story bubbles along with Simone’s inner thoughts, juxtaposing her true self with what she shows to the outside world. Though more down-to-earth, this novel exhibits shades of Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books.
A fast, fun Paris adventure with a strong heroine and series potential.