ADVENT CALENDAR ’15: Re-reading ‘Bug Muldoon’

Bug Muldoon

Then: This book was gold-dust in Year Five. To a certain bracket of us, the most exciting thing about moving classrooms every year was that there was a new book-case of books. (Actually, the biggest mark of pride was being so good at reading that you got to go to the classroom above to get books, which unfortunately was also simultaneously terrifying.) In Year Five, we all wanted to get our hands on Bug Muldoon. This sounds like the start of one of those nostalgic stories about sharing the smutty pages from horror novels in the playground, but we never really experienced that (apart from everyone trying to take Shaun Hutson out the library at the same time in Year Seven because it mentioned labia); but in Year 5, Bug Muldoon became treasured currency.

God knows why. No slight intended: the genius of Bug Muldoon lies in its clever parody of film noir, which none of us nine-year-olds understood. I guess we just liked detective novels with a twist, and Bug Muldoon was the smartest, cleverest take on a detective any of us had come across. A beetle detective! Investigating ants and spiders! His sidekick is a fly! Clearly it is the greatest novel ever written.

One glorious afternoon, we all sat on the carpet (we liked sitting on the carpet) and our teacher asked us to select books we liked from the bookshelf for her to read a taster of to the assembled group. Seven of us clamoured for her to read Bug Muldoon. She read the first page, and we waited with bated breath for everyone to join us in the excitement. Neither the teacher nor the rest of the class seemed particularly excited. “Shall I carry on?” the teacher asked. “Yes!” seven of us shrieked, but it seemed the rest had not been convinced by a single page.

Clearly they were philistines.

Now: Turns out Bug Muldoon is still brilliant. It’s even more brilliant once you have a clue about film noir tropes, because this has everything: street-talking, dive bars (under a giant leaf, serving nectar), unheeding thugs (ants), gang warfare (wasps vs ants), a sexy femme fatale (grasshopper) and a sidekick who, one realises as an adult, is a drug addict. (Shakey Jake, who fell in sugar when young, shakes and trembles unless he is given a fix of sugar. If we follow this metaphor, it is morally dodgy that at the end he is rewarded for his troubles with a large sugar cube, but let’s ignore that.)

The oddest thing about going back to children’s books is realising they are very short, and so my biggest complaint was that just when I thought the threads of the mystery had been set up nicely, they were being drawn together rather suddenly, and the conclusion being rushed towards. I suppose it’s a bit much to ask nine-year-olds to read a five hundred page detective novel, but fuck ’em, I want to read it.

However, I was overjoyed to realise, upon searching for Garden of Fear that there is a sequel, so there is more Bug Muldoon I have not read. Why this was not a series that carried on and on is beyond be, because it’s brilliant. I blame the philistines on the carpet.

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