On a windy day on the island of Eilean, Luca and Valentina’s charismatic Uncle Alistair blows in. Their dad isn’t too pleased to see him – there are rumours he may have had something to do with the children’s grandparents mysteriously vanishing. That’s not the only secret Alistair carries: there’s something strange and semi-transparent lurking on his shoulder that only Luca and Valentina can see. And as for his business, the Really Weird Removal Company? People imagine Alistair removes household pests like rats and mice, but the truth is much, much weirder…
Before they know it, Valentina and Luca – who narrates this fast-paced, often funny story –are embroiled in many strange new adventures with their Uncle. They discover that all sorts of supernatural creatures – trolls, mermaids, selkies and stone fairies to name but a few – can get embroiled in the lives of humans; sometimes innocently, sometimes malevolently. Like a sort of Rentaghost-in-reverse, it’s the job of Really Weird Removals to sort these problems out, to disentangle the monsters, and try and find a happy solution for all concerned.
One of the strengths of Daniela’s writing is the breadth of her imagination. There’s mention made at one point of ‘The Secret Map of Scotland’, and it’s tempting to believe Daniela has actually plotted this atlas out, and invented a secret history and marvellous creature to conceal in every location. Each chapter of the novel opens with an extract from Alistair’s ‘Scottish Paranormal Database’ – some funny, some chilling – before leading us into the children’s latest encounter. These extracts feel like sketches for stories in miniature, and would be a gift for any budding young writer (or teacher) who’d like to spin their own adventures off from Really Weird Removals.Com’s starting point. (I was particularly drawn to the tale of singing troll, whose cries were apparently captured on a cameraphone in 2009, and so enjoyed a period of infamy as a ringtone in Scottish schools…). While individual monster-problems are often dealt with swiftly by our team of heroes, it is satisfying to discover there’s a bigger, character-driven plot brewing in the background, that lends this novel its emotional and entirely-fitting conclusion. This is not only a story about fabulous monsters – it’s also a story about families, and how they fit together.
Along with The Daemon Parallel and Alette J Willis’s How to Make a Golem (and Terrify People), Daniela’s novel was originally shortlisted for the 2011 Kelpies Prize. It’s been my privilege to get to know Daniela in recent months, and it’s a real pleasure to be able to say how much I enjoyed Really Weird Removals.Com.