The late Harry Thompson, Herge's English-language biographer, regarded this as the best Tintin book. Reading it as an adult, it's hard to disagree. It may not have the swashbuckling panache of the Unicorn/Rackham saga, or the nailbiting tension of the moon journey, or the mystical dread of the Inca adventure, but what it lacks in rollercoaster thrills it more than makes up for in character comedy. And it's still a fine detective story.
It's a masterclass in storytelling. Almost nothing happens - a soprano's jewels are stolen and then recovered - but there's never a dull moment. Bianca Castafiore's self-absorption was never so well captured as when she walks into the room where her accompanist has supposedly been practising; instead, he's been playing a tape of himself practising for the benefit of anyone wondering where he is, so that he can hop out of the window, sneak down to the town and bet on the horses; however, Tintin has caught him in the act. The two are standing beside the still-running tape player discussing the matter when Signora Castafiore enters and asks the hapless Herr Wagner why he isn't practising, and Tintin replies that he clearly is, just listen - whereupon the none-too-sharp signora catches herself, apologises to her sweating accompanist and walks out, reassured. Well, it's funny when you read it.
Confining Haddock to a wheelchair means that that sublime grump can't just shove off to sea when it all gets too weird, and meantime Prof Calculus is carrying on his eye-twisting research into the properties of colour TV. It's a beautifully drawn, cleverly plotted and admirably low-key story, relying less on glamorous locations and more on the interplay of character. Herge never displayed his genius so fully as in this book.
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