The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd (2007)

At Purple House Clinic, we love reading and sharing children’s books, especially ones that offer positive, neurodiverse role-models. We know that through reading, children can explore identities, learn about different cultures and in this particular case, perhaps feel validated and seen. Many autistic children feel invisible and lonely; embracing the experience of literary representation, may offer some much-needed high-profile visibility.

This compelling YA mystery thriller has all the hallmarks of the much-loved novel, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” by Mark Haddon (2003.) Both have autistic, teenage narrators, who struggle with social interaction and yet seeing the world differently is an asset to solving their respective mysteries. 

The London Eye Mystery is an Agatha Christie thriller for 8-12 year olds, though adults will also surely enjoy the fast-moving plot. Ted is thirteen and lives with his rebellious older sister, Kat and their parents. His aunt, Gloria and cousin, Salim come to stay during half-term. Gloria and Salim are moving to New York but we learn that the anticipated move to The Big Apple is not welcomed by everyone.

Salim mysteriously disappears during a trip to The London Eye, leaving everyone, including the local Police baffled by his disappearance. It is up to Ted and his older sister, Kat, to find Salim, using their unique sleuthing skills. 

Although this is a stand-alone mystery thriller, with photographic evidence, working theories, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and surveillance footage, it is Ted’s endearing love of meteorology and emotional connections that are truly beautiful. 

Ted describes his brain to Salim as working in a different operating system, with different wiring. He loves weather patterns: hurricanes and anticyclones. He sees weather patterns in people: his aunt, Gloria with her hurricane nature:“her eyes move quickly, like lightning strikes,” and the tension at home, after Salim disappears as,“invisible feelings vibrate in the air, like ions do just before an electric storm.”He remembers how to set cutlery by visualising an electric current, counts his shredded wheat at breakfast and goes to sleep with The Shipping Forecast every night. He asked the vicar, Who made God? when he was a child and knows the exact timing of one rotation of The London Eye. 

He is called a “neek” (geek/nerd) by the other children at school and describes his loneliness with Salim, “I don’t like being different. I don’t like being in my brain. Sometimes it’s like a big empty space where I’m all on my own. And there’s nothing else, just me.” On seeing Salim for the first time in five years, Kat notices his Northern style and haircut, whereas Ted perceptively notices that his,“thoughts are not in the same place as his body.”

One of the most poignant paragraphs is his account of Barrington Heights, one of the tallest tower blocks in south London. The Barracks, as it’s affectionately known by the locals is earmarked for demolition. The area had become rundown, associated with drugs, theft and gangs and the residents will be rehomed. Ted understands social exclusion as a virus: “everybody in society acts like you don’t exist…you end up with all the other people being ignored’re so angry that society is treating you like this that you take drugs and shoplift and form gangs in revenge.” His sensitive, compassionate view of Humanity extends to his desire to work as a climate meteorologist when he’s older, “ so that I can predict things and help the human race to survive.”

Ted’s altruistic nature is at constant odds with the way that his family and teachers experience him. His sister calls him a “weirdo,” his parents tell him “not now” and his favourite teacher tells him to be more like others on the outside, to make friends. 

Salim accepts Ted for who is- asking him about his autism, sharing his own racist experiences at an all-boys school, empathising with Ted’s loneliness and even letting Ted use his prized camera at The London Eye. He even redefines “neek” as unique, in recognition of Ted’s  genius sleuthing abilities.

Throughout the novel, we learn how Ted literally interpretes idioms (“laughed head off,” “going off the rails”), much to the amusement and sometimes frustration of his family members. He oftens stims by flapping his hands, pacing and humming, out of frustration and fear. In one scene, after a huge argument between Kat and the mum, Ted goes into the back garden to regulate. He counts his strides lengthways and across. He repeats the counting. In the absence of the trampoline, he starts kicking the shed to clear his head. He kicks it 87 times. He then feels empty inside, the empty nothing he described to Salim earlier. But he then experiences the “Aurora Borealis”of ideas: he figures out how Salim vanished. 

Ted likens the kicking to a rather crude form of Buddhist meditation- by kicking the shed, it empties his head. By clearing your head, you can find enlightenment and in this case, a vital clue to Salim’s disappearance. 

Ted’s narrative style feels naturalistic: integral and heartfelt to the storytelling. He has an authentic voice, not contrived or shoehorned in as a plot device. The only criticisms are minor: Salim is referred to rather outdatedly, as ‘half-Asian,’ rather than ‘mixed-race,’ and Ted’s teacher’s social stories are questionable- a rather restrictive “five-point facial expression worksheet to understand emotions.” This feels more an illustration of the socially accepted thinking around race/ethnicity and autistic teaching tools at the time (2007), rather than any intentional offence or ignorance from the author. 

This is a highly recommended thriller mystery for children aged 8-12 years with a contextual, narrative voice of an autistic teenager. Children or teenagers with ASD may identify with Ted, appreciating the neurodiverse protagonist literary representation. It stops autism existing in a vacuum- making it part of everyday positive conversations.  

It would be an excellent choice for a class reading book for year 6 Primary School classes (aged 10-11 years old.) This would facilitate contextual discussions about Autism in an educational setting, dispelling any urban myths about autism- helping children learn about autistic classmates. 

There is also currently a sequel being written by Robin Stevens titled, “The Guggenheim Mystery,” featuring the same characters in a different location. 

The London Eye Mystery was the recipient of numerous, prestigious awards, including The TES Special Educational Needs Children’s Book Award (2007) and was adapted to a stage production by The Unicorn Theatre (2009) to rave reviews. 

Sadly, Siobhan Dowd died of cancer in 2007. Before her death, she set up a trust to promote the joy of reading to young people in socially deprived areas in the UK. More information on the trust can be foound here:

Purple House Clinics offer a range of psychological health services including specialist neurodevelopmental assessments (ASD/ ADHD), educational psychology assessments, occupational therapy and psychological therapy for mental health difficulties such as depression, anxiety and trauma. We have several clinics based in England and Scotland. Please enquire about our services here



 Please Note:

There are passing references to parents smoking and drinking alcohol, skiving/playing truant, drug needles/drugs, some swear words like ‘bloody hell,’ ‘sex stuff’/sexual trafficking and racist language, (used contextually to describe racism towards Marcus/Salim.)



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