Review: The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli.
The locomotive puffed out a sigh of steam, as if it were alive – a dragon, ancient, powerful, and ready to fly.
(The Highland Falcon Thief by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman. P14.)
As Harrison Beck waits for his new sibling to enter the world, he is sent off to spend time with journalist and train enthusiast Uncle Nat. The pair board the Highland Falcon for its final journey before it is sent to a museum. They are in the company of well-known society figures – from actress Sierra Knight to a Countess, a Baron and important railway officials.
Then a notorious jewel thief strikes.
Can Harrison and his friend, the not-so-secret stowaway Lenny, solve the mystery and catch the culprit before the wrong person takes the blame?
All aboard for the first mystery adventure in a series dedicated entirely to trains. Imagine that Michael Portillo had taken an 11-year-old boy along as he filmed Great British Railway Journeys. And that the boy in question had met a girl with a wealth of knowledge about railways. The train isn’t just a pretty backdrop in this series. It is the living, beating heart of the story. At last! A mystery series for readers who care about the ins and outs of railways.
This first story sees a notorious jewel thief strike on the first night of the journey. The Magpie has a reputation for stealing high-value pieces. The trouble is, nobody knows the Magpie’s true identity. As the blame shifts from one person to another, Harrison and his friend Lenny set to work figuring the case out.
Harrison is an artist and the illustrations tie in with the story as his casebook. This breaks from the recent tradition of detectives with notebooks. This detective has a sketchbook. It also gives the reader very visual reminders of the events and allows them to flick backwards and forwards through the pages as each piece of new information is revealed and notice new details in the illustrations.
Lenny is the resident train geek. Her father drives the train and Lenny has followed him along the rail tracks since she was very small. I was impressed with the level of knowledge and railway vocabulary woven into the story. This series acknowledges that when children have hobbies and interests, they gather huge amounts of knowledge and trivia. It is great to see a series built around this. Recent conversations about whether middle grade has become too adult have failed to discuss this aspect of childhood, but the pure love that young people have for their favourite subjects needs to be reflected in their fiction.
This story will be a hit with fans of middle-grade mystery and its fictional trains should be a hit with young railway enthusiasts. A roaring start.
Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Booksfor my copy of The Highland Falcon Thief. Opinions my own.