Belly Up was not what I was expecting. I was expecting hilarity. Sure it has a dead hippo on the cover, but the cartoonish of it, plus the colors... Actually, Belly Up is rather morbid. It’s still great fun, but fun in the what’s-gonna-happen-next way, not in the oh-look-monkies! kind of way.
Chapter 1 of Belly Up met my expectations. There’s a mischievous kid in a zoo, dodging the adults who want to put an end to his fun. And then there’s poop. Lots and lots of poo. Poo continues to make appearances throughout the novel, but it’s in this first chapter than poo really makes its grand entrance. I think I could argue that poop is actually the protagonist of this novel.
That first chapter sets the stage for what ends up being a very different book. The story becomes increasingly darker as it goes on. There are still bits of humor from beginning to end, but they’re mixed in with a larger story that focuses on murder, attempted murder, and some all-out grossness. Seriously, the climax of this novel makes that fair scene from Problem Child 2 as sweet as cotton candy.
Belly Up is a classic whodunit story told in a zoo. (And Agent Poop is on the case.) I’m not a big fan of the mystery genre for any age, so I’m not the intended audience, but I felt the formula was implemented well. The reveal was not surprising (I actually called it very early in the book) and the reason wasn’t entirely organic to the plot, but neither of these flaws kept the chase from being a fun ride. The characters were engaging. And there are animals, of course. This novel certainly succeeds as an entertaining mystery for children, especially those who laugh at poop.
For those with objections to strong language, please note that this book uses language that may seem misplaced in a children’s book. These include multiple utterances of words such as bastard, ass, hell, and damn. Yeah, I’ve heard worse in a PG movie, but I still thought someone might want to know.