The Mystery of the Crooked Imp – Tales of Fayt


By Conrad Mason & Neill Cameron (David Fickling Books)
ISBN: 978-1-910200-42-1

In January 2012 Oxford-based family publisher David Fickling Books launched a traditional anthology comics weekly aimed at girls and boys between 6 and 12 which revelled in reviving the good old days of picture-story entertainment intent whilst embracing the full force of modernity in style and content.

Each issue still offers humour, adventure, quizzes, puzzles and educational material in a joyous parade of cartoon fun and fantasy. In the years since its premiere, The Phoenix has gone from strength to strength, winning praise from the Great and the Good, child literacy experts and the only people who really count – the astoundingly engaged kids and parents who read it…

That same year “The Little Company that Could” also began publishing a trilogy of excellent children’s fantasy novels starring the strange denizens of a fantastic place called Port Fayt.

Conrad Mason’s enchanting saga of life’s underbelly in a bustling commercial harbour situated at the other end of the Ebony Ocean is wonderfully redolent of Sir Terry Pratchett’s sublime Discworld – both in tone and scope.

The seething dock community – shared by humans, trolls, elves, fairies, magicians and so many other sorts of fey folk and night people – is revealed though the continuing exploits of The Demon’s Watch – a pan-species band of volunteer police who do what the lackadaisical constables of the official Dockside Militia cannot or will not…

Trade is king in Port Fayt and the “Blackcoats” mustered by the dominant and immensely powerful Trading Companies are supposed to arrest pickpockets, smugglers and other business-harming riffraff, but the ordinary citizenry have far more faith in the Watch’s shark-tattooed brotherhood of bluecoats who do good because it’s right and not because they’re (badly) paid to…

Supplementing the prose novels, this superb graphic outing is magically illustrated by David Wyatt (Peter Pan in Scarlet, the Larklight Trilogy, Mortal Engines, assorted tomes of the aforementioned Mr. Pratchett and J.R.R. Tolkien amongst others) and opens with an informative background lecture in ‘Crafty Crocklewick’s Giude to Port Fayt’: a potted history complete with detailed and annotated maps of the region and its more infamous landmarks such as Manticore Playhouse, The Brig and Bootle’s Pie Shop – HQ and front office of the Demon’s Watch.

Their latest case opens one sparkling midnight when a band of desperate fairies hold up a coach and steal a very unusual human baby. It is most odd: fairies are notorious thieves but generally their preferred loot is sugar, not infants with sparkly eyes…

Next morning the child’s parents enjoy a visit from the Demon’s Watch offering assistance, but the wealthy Rattigans seem more annoyed than upset over little Clarence’s abduction and, whilst half-ogre Captain Newton, troll brothers Frank and Paddy Bootle, ancient elf Old Jon and young magician Hal quiz them, wise and crafty young apprentice Tabitha gets the impression their maid Joanna knows more than she’s letting on…

Soon however the Watch are tracking down the carriage driver – a dwarf by the name of Whelk – but there are still a few unanswered questions to ponder. For instance: where was the baby going in a coach at midnight and why weren’t the parents with him?

For that matter why haven’t these wealthy types called in the Militia?

The investigation leads to insalubrious inn the Rusty Anchor but when they arrive the Watch discover Whelk expiring with a cutlass in his guts. Leaving Hal and Tabitha to tend the dying dwarf, they pursue the assailants and Tabs catches Whelk’s dying words: “the crooked imp”…

In the crowded alleyways below they confront a most motley crew of blackguards and a ferocious battle ensues until late-arriving Tabs joins in and distracts Newton enough so that the killer clowns can escape…

As the elder watchmen ponder the mysteries, downhearted Tabs prowls the market, sulking whilst buying the cakes she’s been despatched for until she encounters a frantically fleeing fairy named Spoon. The flighty fool has become the target of an obsessive and hungry seagull and is most grateful for her help in escaping the feathered fiend. She even spends a little precious time getting acquainted with the self-proclaimed “Free Fairy”…

When they part company Tabs goes back to Pie Shop and Spoon goes home where his formidable mum makes him help feed that appalling human baby they snatched for their human client…

Captain Newton meanwhile has taken his team into the seamiest dives in Port Fayt in search of information, but no one knows of a Crooked Imp. Wily old elf Jeb does know something of a band of garish thugs however. They sound like the nasty cutthroats employed by a maniacally bonkers troll gang-boss known as The Actor

As Jeb fills them in on the monster’s likely lair – an old abandoned playhouse in the Marlinspike Quarter – the suspect is currently taking a meeting with an extremely dangerous client of his own: one nasty enough to give even a psychopathic troll pause and one who really, really wants the baby he was promised…

When the Watch tool up for a serious fight with The Actor’s crew Tabs is furious at being left behind again, but soon finds a new clue when Joanna turns up with a rather dubious ransom note for Clarence. It has been signed by the Free Fairies…

Whilst Tabs frantically hunts down Spoon, at the playhouse The Actor and his frankly terrifying employer are still engaged in heated debate when Newt and the lads storm in for a final dust-up. All manner of pointless carnage ensues but when our heroes return, bloodied, unbowed but without either Actor or Clarence, they find that Tabitha has discerned the secret of the Crooked Imp…

The Watch soon rescue Clarence and solve the case of his kidnapping, but it only leads to even greater danger as the role of the Actor and intentions of his eerie employer – as well as the ghastly Rattigans – is finally revealed. However before they can close the case the maniacs turn the tables on our heroes, capturing them all and attempting to make them walk the plank into a nest of artificial sharks. Once again it’s up to Tabs to save the day, so it’s a good thing she has Spoon and that crazy seagull on her side…

Topped off with a foreboding promise of Things to Come and a handy set of information pages on the Demon’s Watch, this boisterous blockbuster is bright, breezy and packed with pies and punch-ups: a rip-roaring mystery yarn that’s furious fun for the entire family. Grab this and prose novels The Demon’s Watch, The Goblin’s Gift and The Hero’s Tomb and surrender to Fayt…

Text © Conrad Mason 2015. Illustrations © David Wyatt 2015.
The Mystery of the Crooked Imp will be released on April 2nd 2015 and is available for pre-order now.