Over the last few years I feel that we have seen a proliferation of stories about adventures on ships and trains. It is not really surprising as these have been a favourite setting for crime novels ever since Hercule Poirot took a journey down the Nile and boarded the Orient Express. It allows the author to work with a close knit group of characters and in a space that is limited, thus allowing them to create the necessary settings required for the action. Although there have been many stories about The Titanic, I can’t remember any others written about this particular Grande Dame of the Sea. Interestingly the ship was only finished because of a government loan, during the depression and a condition was that Cunard would merge with the White Star Line. So in early 1936 RMS Queen Mary made her maiden voyage and then continued to cross the Atlantic until she was de-commissioned in 1967; she was a truly iconic vessel.
This rip roaring adventure centres around Alice, the daughter of the Staff Captain on board the new ship. She unexpectedly finds herself on board the vessel during the school holidays and is looking forward to having fun, discovering her way around. However, she is told that she has to stay in her cabin or on the crew decks, reading books and doing her needlework. Even in the 1930s this would not have been agreeable to a strong-willed and headstrong young girl. Of course Alice sneaks out to explore and accidentally finds herself a witness to an attempted murder. As a result of this, she makes friends with Sonny, Miriam (both young passengers) and Charlie, a young member of the crew. They decide to investigate the incident and soon find themselves caught up in all kinds of skulduggery and criminal activity. While the adults are concerned with trying to win the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing, the young people are finding links to this and the other happenings on the ship. Can the children solve the mysteries and will justice be served?
What a fantastically complex web the author has managed to create. There are several threads which interweave their way through the book and it is only at the end that we understand the full complexity of the tale. The setting of the story is beautifully described, but I think it is the unwritten class differences that resonate when you have the interaction between so many characters and in such a relatively small and confined space; there is also the reference to Nazi Germany, as Miriam’s family are escaping persecution by moving to America. Above all this is a wonderfully exciting and fast paced adventure story,but it also has many lessons to show us, about family and friendship. I really can’t wait for the next adventure, which sees the main characters involved in royal intrigue and a new setting in the Mediterranean.
About A.M. Howell
A.M. Howell has always been inspired by the stories around her, and how imagination can unlock the secrets of the past. Her thrilling historical mysteries have garnered great critical acclaim, winning both the Mal Peet Children’s Book Award, and the East Anglian Book of the Year Award, as well as being shortlisted for lots of other prizes and consistently being reviewed in the national press. A.M. Howell lives in Suffolk with her husband and two sons.
Since her 2019 debut The Garden of Lost Secrets, A.M. Howell has fast cemented herself as a stand-out author of thrilling middle-grade historical fiction. She has enjoyed widespread critical acclaim, twice being afforded the prestigious Times Children’s Book of the Week slot, and with The Telegraph calling her “a hypnotically readable writer, who keeps the pulse racing”, as well as prize wins and strong sales.
A.M. Howell is the recipient of the Mal Peet Children’s Award for The House of One Hundred Clocks which was also the overall winner of the East Anglian Book of the Year Award, the first time a children’s book has won this prize, whose past recipients include Sarah Perry.
After hearing about the discovery of a 100-year-old gardener’s notebook at the National Trust’s Ickworth House in Suffolk, A.M. Howell found herself wondering who it could have belonged to, and so The Garden of Lost Secrets was born. She continues to be inspired by the stories around her, and how imagination can unlock the secrets of the past. Her new series, Mysteries at Sea is inspired by her own childhood travels on ships.
After completing a BA and MA at the University of Manchester, A.M. Howell now writes policy documents for local government. In 2015, she was one of 15 writers selected to take part in the Curtis Brown Creative Writing for Children Course, tutored by children’s author Catherine Johnson.