In an increasingly frantic world, sometimes you just have to pause, sink back into a comfortable seat, load up with snacks and drinks and completely immerse yourself in the luxury of a great book. This story majestically transports the reader on an opulent train journey around Britain in the company of celebrities and aristocracy, a jewel thief, five samoyeds and two intrepid young detectives.
Written jointly by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, it serves up a package of heist adventure wrapped in a delicate tissue of beautifully observed social drama. The two young protagonists Hal and Lenny are beautifully written and complement each other perfectly as a pair of young investigators and such is the detailed rendering of The Highland Falcon that the train becomes a character in its own right. I loved the subtle gender role-reversal which gave Hal the role of observer and Lenny (Marlene Singh, stowaway daughter of the engine driver) the role of engineer and action hero.
We first meet Hal as he is being reluctantly handed over to his uncle’s care whilst his parents head to the hospital for the birth of a new sibling. Uncle Nat is the famous travel writer Nathaniel Bradshaw and presents Hal with the golden opportunity of accompanying him on the final journey of famous steam train The Highland Falcon as it embarks on its four-day, royal tour of Britain. The guest list for this valedictory tour is redolent of many famous fictional train adventures – royalty, boorish, self-made tycoon, European aristocracy, tremendously wealthy and eccentric old-English landowner and accompanying servant, and railway employees.
The presence of a jewel thief operating in the moneyed society of London is flagged in the newspapers being handed out at the station, and before the train is a day into its journey, the bullied wife of entrepreneur Steven Pickle and the Countess of Arundel have both reported missing items of jewellery. When the Prince and Princess join the train from Balmoral, the Princess’s priceless diamond necklace is the next target. Hal and Lenny decide that they will unmask the thief, and as they are transported on their journey of discovery, peppered with clues and false leads they develop a friendship based on trust, loyalty and bravery.
There are so many appealing elements to this story apart from its elegantly constructed plot. The technical detailing of the steam engine, combined with sumptuous descriptions of the British landscape delight and educate the reader. Uncle Nat is a character who appears to have hidden depths which I hope will be explored in future stories. Whilst the clever construction of Hal observing every detail with an artist’s eye and sketching out the scenes in his notebook in order to solve the crime is brilliantly brought to life by Elisa Paganelli’s magnificent illustrations.
I imagine that this book is likely to have very broad appeal to a middle-grade audience, and it is a delight to read as an adult, in my case evoking the feel of such classics as Murder on the Orient Express or Strangers on a Train, but without the murder element. The first few pages of the second Adventures on Trains story are included at the end – I will certainly be pre-booking my ticket to ride the California Comet!
I am most grateful to Toppsta.com and Macmillan Children’s Publishing for sending me a copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.