Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine

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It was a trick. It had to be. ‘Charlie, I know it’s you!’ she called. ‘Come out and stop playing the fool.’ 

But there was no reply, no answering snigger. Instead the footsteps just kept coming towards her along the passageway – slow and heavy. Too heavy to be the steps of a young underfootman. Her chest tightened. 

‘If this is your idea of a stupid joke…’ she began, but the words seemed to choke her, and fell away. 

As she stared, she saw that a dark shape was moving steadily towards her. A tall, billowing, unearthly shadow, stretched into the shape of a human figure, advancing closer and closer along the wall.’

(The Midnight Peacock by Katherine Woodfine. P13.) birdSynopsis:

Christmas comes to Sinclair’s. Mr Sinclair’s Midnight Peacock New Year’s Ball is the event of the London festive season. While Billy and Joe stay behind to set up, Sophie and Lil set off for Winter Hall, home of their friend Leo and her aristocratic family.

All is not right at Winter Hall. Everybody knows the East Wing is haunted, but recently the ghost has been heard and sighted by the serving staff. Serving girl Tilly was too rational to believe it, until she saw it for herself. When Leo comes home, Tilly tells her about the figure in the downstairs passageway. Who better to investigate that Leo’s guests, detectives Sophie and Lil?

Meanwhile, Billy finds an investigation of his own. Somebody has taken the empty office opposite Sinclair’s, and they only move about at night. What connects the two things? Who is the strange lady Sophie keeps seeing? Can she find out more about her father’s relationship with the Baron?

An epic finale for the Sinclair’s series.birdReview:

The Sinclair’s Mysteries has been a favourite series over the past 18 months. I love the settings, the young detectives and how Woodfine has expanded her world with a cast of characters from different social backgrounds. The Midnight Peacock is my favourite story of all. I read it over a day, finishing in the small hours having failed to put it down.

Winter Hall is a deliciously gothic setting. It is not the first aristocratic manor with hidden passages I have encountered in fiction, but Woodfine makes it something special. Winter Hall, in the North, contrasts nicely with Sinclair’s. It may be that the social scene takes place in London, but it is at dinner tables and in smoking parlours that links between aristocratic ‘sets’ are forged. Leo’s mother is quick to make it known that she disproves of Sophie and Lil as guests, even though they are the darlings of Sinclair’s, and have caught the imaginations of many wealthy visitors to Sinclair’s.

The mystery builds nicely. I love how the main characters split early, so the reader keeps their attention in two places. The questions build, and it becomes a puzzle. How could the answers connect the events? The story which was introduced in The Painted Dragon, about the Baron’s past and his connections, continues as Sophie learns more about his father. I love how Woodfine connects a wide cast of characters. The stories set in Sinlair’s may have finished, but there is scope for further stories set almost anywhere in the world.

Woodfine has also explored the history of the early 1900s, and the attitudes of the time towards different groups of people. This time we meet Tilly, a black working-class girl in a world skewed towards middle-class white men. It is humbling to see how hard Tilly works when the world literally forbids her from pursuing her education as a scientist. There were real-life women like Tilly, with a passion for engineering and science, who paved the way for change.

All along, I have loved descriptions of Sinclair’s. The chocolate department made my mouth water, and the spectacle of the Midnight Ball caught my imagination. I hope Sophie and Lil’s adventures continue. There is a hint after the story that they will, and I will be here to read them wherever in the world they might go.