Circus of Thieves and the Comeback Caper

As if one Shank wasn’t enough… hot on the heels of thieving circus ringmaster Armitage comes his twin brother Zachary. Even more dastardly and devious, Zachary is plotting grown-up revenge for a childhood injustice: their mother’s gift to Armitage of a ‘tiny enormous’ lorry. And how better to get his own back than by sabotaging his brother’s beloved circus, which – hang on – is only there to sabotage another circus. Can young friends Billy and Hannah save the wonderful Ernesto’s Espadrille’s Extreme Extravaganza?

The plot of Sutcliffe’s third Shanky offering doesn’t so much thicken as knot, entangling young readers in a web of hilarity, nonsense and mathematical pigs. There’s as much clowning around with words as with characters, from lleaping llamas to the circus performers Halle Tosis and Delia de la Doolah. And the trademark asterisks and footnotes are as original as ever, from spoons to worms to a black square denoting boring parents.

Some of the language might sail over the heads of young readers (the ‘foetid embrace of a flatulent dromderary’, and a reference to Svengali), but where better to learn new words than amid the smelly mayhem of the circus? The jokes come thick and fast and David Tazzyman illustrates the fun with dashed-off brilliance from his scratchy black pen, capturing the frantic pace, the crazy characters and even the foetid embrace of that windy camel.

Readers will laugh and cheer on Billy and Hannah in their efforts to outwit the terrible twins.