Choo-choo! What an absolute delight 'The Highland Falcon Thief' is! Skilled conductors M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman's new 'Adventures on Trains' series has arrived with a jubilant hoot. Prepare to be whisked away in a story with twists, turns and with a carriage-full of quirky characters.
The Highland Falcon steam train is on its final journey from London up to Scotland and back. As Harrison Beck's mother is due to give birth any day soon, Uncle Nat is to look after him - on the train. Harrison doesn't know what to expect and to begin with he thinks trains are pretty boring. But soon a precious jewel goes missing on the journey and Harrison, with his new friend Lenny, must solve the mystery, which just might give Harrison reasons to like trains after all.
This feels like a classic with a modern edge: Murder on the Orient Express but with no murder, more Scotland and a healthy dose of British culture. There are celebrities, aristocrats, business tycoons and, of course, the royal family on this trip. But at it's heart we have Harrison Beck; an 'everyboy' with artistic talents who can see through the flashy veneer of the train and its occupants. Alongside him is Lenny. She is a wonderful, dynamic character that adds an extra layer of charm and mischief to the proceedings. As with 'Beetle Boy' (also by Leonard), the rich cast of characters here are wonderfully realized and I can already picture Leonard dramatising these characters at events in quite the fabulous way she does. Sedgman brings the knowledge and enthusiasm of trains to the fore, offering rich details and energy to the events and set pieces. (Although I'm assuming this is how it worked). Leonard and Sedgman make for a brilliant partnership just as much as Harrison and Uncle Nat do!
Overall, it's simply a joy to read a detective story for children, with a journey framing the narrative. Elisa Paganelli's illustrations need huge praise too, as they really are the icing on the cake, adding even more charm and energy to a book already steamrolling with it.
I can't wait to go on Harrison Beck's next adventure. California anyone?