Floors (Floors #1) by Patrick Carman
The first thing I noticed about "Floors" was that two of the major characters have animal names. The protagonist is named Leo, and his friend and mentor is named Merganzer Whippet. "Leo" is, of course, the Latin word for "lion," a merganser is a kind of duck and a whippet is a kind of dog. I wondered if this was going to be an overall theme. It isn't, and I'm not sure if that is fortunate or unfortunate. I suspect it might be fortunate.
The book opens with a prologue in which the 15-year-old Merganzer visits his father's deathbed. His father's final words, spoken to Merganzer, are, "You will prosper in the field of wacky inventions." Unfortunately, Merganzer's interpretation of this statement was inaccurate, as we discover in this book. Though he misunderstood, Merganzer did indeed prosper and his inventions are truly wacky.
We fast-forward an unspecified number of years into the life of ten-year-old Leo Fillmore. Leo is the son of Clarence, the caretaker for the Whippet Hotel in New York City. The hotel was the result of some, and possibly all, of Merganzer's forays into the field of wacky inventions. All of the rooms of the hotel have over-the-top themes -- there is a cake room, a ponds and caves room, a pinball room, and a robot room. Those are just some of the rooms that are public knowledge. There are also a number of hidden rooms that only Merganzer knows about.
We meet the three permanent residents of the Whippet Hotel: LilyAnn Pompadore, a socialite from Texas (we also meet her poorly housebroken dog Hiney); Captain Rickenbacker, a billionaire inventor in his own right, who thinks that he is a superhero (his arch-nemesis is named "Mr. M."); and Theodore Bump, a prolific novelist (who is rumored to write at least a novel a month under a total of nine famous pseudonyms, which now that I think of it doesn't really add up. At least one of those pseudonyms must be publishing more than one book a year, every year. I don't know if any publisher would let an author flood the market like that. Even Stephen King (whom I suspect was the inspiration for Bump) has only done that on average 12 times in his 42-year career. If I were to make a suggestion I would suggest adding a few more pseudonyms. Perhaps making it 14 or 15).
We also meet the rest of the staff: Ms. Sparks, the manager of the hotel; Mr. Phipps, the gardener; Pilar, the maid; and Pilar's son, Remi, who, at the age of ten, has just gotten a job as the doorman. We also meet Blop, a pocket-sized robot who exists to be a conversational companion for the resident of the Robot Room. Blop has to say at least 10,000 words a day or he malfunctions. Unfortunately, the resident of the Robot Room is Theodore Bump, who finds Blop's chatter irritating. In order to keep Blop out of Bump's hair, the boys take the little robot with them on their adventure.
Leo and his dad live in the boiler room of the hotel. They sleep on cots with a washing machine between them and the boiler makes noises constantly. There is a desk in the corner, and above this desk is a shark's head that works as a ticker-tape printer. Requests for Clarence's assistance come out on strips of paper from the shark's mouth.
We begin our story, and Leo begins his day, taking Merganzer's six ducks -- five drakes and a hen named Betty -- for a walk. The ducks live on the roof of the hotel, and there is a dedicated elevator just for them. Today the duck elevator is more crowded than usual, and it isn't until Leo takes the ducks back out of the elevator that he notices a large purple box is in the elevator with them. The words "for Leo" are written on the box.
The box is the beginning of a scavenger hunt that Merganzer has set up for Leo. Leo will find four boxes through the day, each box a different color, and each leading to one of the hidden hotel rooms.
This scavenger hunt is intertwined with the story of Bernardo Frescobaldi, a millionaire who wants to buy the hotel. He has sent his right-hand man, Martin, to the hotel to find someone willing to sabotage the hotel in hopes of making the owner willing to sell. The Bernardo plot is how Carman exposits some of Merganzer's background.
I was extremely disappointed to discover that "Floors" loses something the second time through. You know what is going on the second time, so some of the things that seemed to make sense the first time sometimes actually end up being confusing the second time.
I have read and reviewed the second book in the series, "3 Below", though, because I love Carman's writing, and, although "Floors" was imperfect, I still wanted to see what happens in the lives of Leo and the other residents of the Whippet Hotel.