A plea to all mothers – do not, whatever you do, turn into a granny. There will of course come the time you put the child-bearing years behind you, and even get to the stage where your exercise turns from that thing you do where you swim breast-stroke back and forward talking to your best friend for hours on end into driving to crown green bowling, but you still don't need to turn into a granny. Smelling like a granny, forgetting everyone's names on purpose, and doling out horridly inappropriate presents – all are optional.
But our hero here, Joe, smells a rat – as well as a granny. He thinks his granny might be up to something, and that the naff gifts, the wrong names, and even a couple of mysterious deaths, might be due to the fact that granny has something up her sleeve more serious than her bingo wings.
There is a charming sense of the daft in the sense of humour here – Joe's full name is Jordan Morgan Warden, and he lives at Thattlebee Hall. The family is hugely rich, but even with that there is an instant 'in' to the character, and the facts of the horrid kiss-sharing with granny at Christmas and everything else all come across very well to make this a world the reader can fit into very nicely.
Similarly, everyone else is of some interest – the mother with her unusual hobbies, the father with his over-working, the other daft adults adding to the joke count, and so on – but this is especially true for Granny. We of course share the knowledge of how nasty she seems with Joe, but there is still a huge mystery to be lived through to find out just what the truth might be, and how he can convince his parents of it.
This is very well pitched at the 8-12 audience, with the emphasis perhaps on the male reader. It won't ever be called a classic by all the family, but this is great fun for the right audience, and rolls along with a good humorous character, a strong sense of the unusual, and an unexpected tale to tell. There is nothing in this book to worry about – there will be no more anti-granny feeling after this is read than before, however much it suggests old age need not immediately demand love in return.
Anthony Horowitz has proved himself to be a brilliant author for children many times over since this was first published in 1994. It hasn't aged in the interim, and there will always be an audience for books such as this, where a young lad grows up and discovers the truths about his relatives.