Arts Books By The Book literature Review

★★★★☆ Book Review: Ace Agent Spycat and the Mayonnaise Mayhem by Darren Lim

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Crime-fighting cats return to save the world’s landmarks from thieving racoons.

When we read the first book in Darren Lim’s Ace Agent Spycat Series, we were charmed by our flawed but likeable heroes, as they saved the world from freezing over using their wits, cool gadgets, and the power of teamwork. Now, Spycat and Rockcat are back for a brand new adventure, as thieving racoon twins Mac and Cheese attempt to steal ten of the world’s greatest landmarks!

In the same vein as the first book, Spycat and Rockcat’s adventures are told in well-paced chapters as they chase the twins around the world. Due to the nature of the story, each chapter now comes with a fun puzzle for readers to solve, as our dynamic duo figure out where the twins are jetting off to next. From unscrambling anagrams to deciphering Morse code, younger readers will be exposed to these fun, interactive brain teasers during their read, while also learning plenty of new vocabulary thanks to the helpful robot Catcom (as adults, even we learnt that a ‘rebus’ is not to be confused with ‘mee rebus’, and simply refers to a fun puzzle).

There is also a welcome return of the same quirky humour and hijinks in Ace Agent Spycat and the Mayonnaise Mayhem that made the first book so endearing. It’s hard to stifle a giggle at Spycat’s catchphrase ‘Fried Fishballs’, something he utters each time they’re faced with an obstacle in the way (in the same vein as Captain Haddock’s ‘blistering barnacles’ from Herge’s Tintin). He has good reason to say it too, with the unfortunate reveal of his one weakness – mayonnaise. The twin racoons capitalise on this to extremes, and midway through, they’ve somehow gotten their hands on a mecha that even shoots blobs of mayonnaise as its primary attack!

This also marks the first book to introduce Bosscat – a distinctly Sikh-inspired cat, showcasing racial diversity and representation even amongst cat-kind. Illustrated by Lai Hui Li, Bosscat even sips chai masala, dons a turban and sports an impressive moustache. Lai’s illustrations feel dynamic, with particular praise going out to her facial expressions, capturing the cartoon nature of the book, and really imbuing these anthropomorphic characters with personality and life.

Most important perhaps, is how Darren manages to develop these characters beyond one-dimensional heroes. Once again, the contrast between Spycat’s stiff professionalism and Rockcat’s youthful, devil-may-care attitude makes for a great dynamic to follow. Also, Spycat’s story is surprisingly mature, dealing with issues of shame and embarrassment leading to one’s inability to face the public, followed by a satisfying redemption arc that makes us understand why he’s the hero of this story.

As a quintessentially Singaporean story, it’s a pleasant surprise when the final showdown ends up becoming a literal food fight, with intelligent use of local cuisine, from fish head curry to durian that saves the cats from a sticky situation and saves the day once again. Books for younger audiences are always tricky to handle, with the need to find the middle ground between too easy and too difficult. With vocabulary assistance, interactive puzzles and winsome protagonists, Ace Agent Spycat ensures that readers of most ages will enjoy the adventure it takes them on.

Recommended for: Readers looking for an adrenaline-filled adventure about overcoming one’s fear of food, while also discovering fun facts about puzzles and wonders of the world. 

Ace Agent Spycat and the Mayonnaise Mayhem is published by Epigram and available here

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