Beyond the Knock-Knock Door

Scott Monk
Random House Australia

‘A mystery is a dull question if there’s not plenty of confusion first.’

A random act of kindness propels Michael, a considerate country boy, into an otherworldly adventure. Tormented at his new city school by the vicious Thornleigh sisters and caught in the middle at home between his siblings, Michael’s life undergoes a strange metamorphosis when he gives a dollar to a homeless man.

He meets the man again in a curious old shop while looking for a fancy dress costume and, realising the man is the proprietor, begins to suspect that all is not as it seems. Quite an accurate assessment as it turns out when he is chased, along with his brother and sister, from the party they’re attending. As they escape the Thornleighs and other assorted bullies, they discover the Knock-Knock Door—a gorgeously-ornamented gateway that opens only when given the answers to knock-knock jokes and obscure riddles.

Beyond this Knock-Knock Door, the triplets are swept across the galaxy to Pacifico, a world of oceans which float in the atmosphere where their fancy dress costumes become real. Michael’s plastic armour turns to gold. Luke’s visor develops high-tech capability and his backpack turns into jet rockets. Samantha’s scribbled-on beard becomes tickly, prickly reality and the cobra tattoo which is part of her pirate costume begins to hiss alarmingly.

Michael is hailed by the nobles of Pacifico as the Gold Knight, direct from the Hall of Heroes. Luke is welcomed as Agent Luke of the Star Rangers but Samantha, as a dreaded Cobra Pirate, is only accepted because of the company she’s keeping.

They’ve arrived in an exquisite city ruled over by Queen Oriana. The ocean floats in the sky, whales and fish fly and the life-giving waters found in the land keep all the nobility young and dazzlingly beautiful.

There’s got to be a catch, of course.

An invisible monster is snatching and dispatching both noblemen and marine guards, along with an occasional member of the underclass, the Scorned.

It’s up to Michael and his siblings to figure out just how to save Pacifico and its glamorous teenage queen. But the necessary pieces of the puzzle are very slow to reveal themselves.

Beyond the Knock-Knock Door is a fast-paced children’s fantasy with characters that are finely and memorably drawn. The dialogue is snappy, sharp and very often witty. The style is a generous balance of lyrical description (love Queen Oriana’s dress of butterflies!), lightning-fast action, clever puzzles (the riddles at the Knock-Knock Door are truly nifty wordgames) and a plot as shifting and twisted as a tropical cyclone. A minor letdown in an otherwise fabulous book is a lack of plot coherence. Instead of a close weave, a loose patchwork of pieces seems roughly tacked together.

‘A mystery is a dull question if there’s not plenty of confusion first.’ And plenty of confusion is the order of the day. The characters lack a sense of direction for a considerable time and this seems to have affected the story. Too many threads are left up in the air (or is that the ocean?) Too many unanswered questions remain at the end.

The revelation of the villainous mastermind is well-done and logical but unfortunately it feels contrived. There’s too much misdirection to give a real sense of satisfaction at the ultimate unveiling.

Important characters such as Federico pop up out of nowhere, others disappear without a word about their ultimate fate. What happened to the Red Samurai? Captain Cavalli? Prime Minister Pasquale? The Lady Isabelle? Her brother Guido? Strangers are rescued but friends are not.

These flaws undermine the finely-threaded messages of justice and integrity which surface occasionally in the story. The author doesn’t seem to care about those minor heroic characters and this lends a vaguely false feel to the underpinning themes of compassion, of caring for the lost, the outcast and the underdog.

Perhaps I’m being picky because I dislike the ending so much. A bright and brilliantly cut jewel of a story suddenly reveals itself to be badly chipped. My immense disappointment begins with the words, ‘It was time to go home.’

Eh, what? Back up, rewind, Control-Z! No, sorry, it wasn’t time to go home at all. It was time to rescue Cavalli, Isabelle, Guido and maybe even the Red Samurai.

This is a wondrous book, great in every respect but one. Don’t make the mistake of caring too much about those minor characters who go out of their way to help and protect the three squabbling heroes and then seem forgotten in a rush to wrap up the story before the stroke of midnight.

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