Review: Emperor Norton’s Treasure Hunt by William Durkin and Shayne Durkin

★★★★★ Emperor Norton's Treasure Hunt by William Durkin and Shayne Durkin

In 1955, a year when the American Dream was fresh and alive, the San Francisco Chronicle had stiff competition to remain in business amidst the city’s infamous newspaper wars. Under tremendous pressure to succeed, an idea is born – like a diamond from coal: a treasure hunt. Not just any treasure hunt, but a treasure hunt of the ages. With clues to be given and real-life locations to visit, readers would fight tooth-and-nail across the city to find Emperor Norton’s lost prize… if it exists at all. With colorful characters both human and animal alike, follow along with this fantastic journey in Emperor Norton’s Treasure Hunt.

The book is a fictional account of events taking place in the Nifty Fifties with a fantastic roster of characters – from newspaper moguls to zonkeys (!) – pushing the envelope and keeping the runaway train of the treasure hunt going, even when it threatens to tear the city apart. It’s a roaring tale that reaches a peak in one of the most unlikely of settings and hinging on some of the most laugh-out-loud bizarre personalities thought up for the tale.

Emperor Norton’s Treasure Hunt originated in the stories told by the elder William Durkin to, and with, his daughter Shayne, and at the daughter’s request the two wrote this book together. This works out spectacularly for the read, as these whimsical ideas born of a father and daughter telling stories together become tested and well-developed, creating a living world that retains a sense childish wonder. This book is certainly written with a younger reader in mind – after all, it was created by a young mind with the help of an older one, for the enjoyment of both.

Parent-child authorship is nothing new, and has turned out superbly in the past – look no further than pen-name Zizou Corder – actually co-authors Louisa and Isabel Adomakoh Young – and the Lion Boy series, which became so beloved for its similar qualities and universal appeal. Both are excellent examples of the merits of this kind of joint-authorship that can be sincerely enjoyed by any age of reader, regardless of its touted “core” audience. This books fits excellently within that tradition.

The book is a hectic, joyous work of fiction that does an excellent job of combining myriad elements in its narrative for an all-encompassing extravaganza of a plot. It uses real-life history and locations to great benefit, without becoming a derivative or dull brand of historical fiction, and it’s bursting with creativity on every page. Emperor Norton’s Treasure Hunt is off-the-wall, fantastical, and utterly captivating, and makes an excellent read alone or with a younger reader.

And to those who enjoy the book, there’s more in store: the sequel, The Emperor Returns, has already been released, taking place in 1957, after the launch of Sputnik 1, two years after the original outing. Both reads are exceptionally entertaining and lively, and of course, more from the Durkin dream-team is wonderful to see!


Emperor Norton's Treasure Hunt