Book Review, Middle Grade Fiction

The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger

A life-changing journey on a 19th century ship bound for England, leaving behind everything you’ve ever known, witnessing a murder on a dark night… The Secret Detectives is a gripping Middle Grade mystery with hints of Nancy Drew and The Secret Garden intertwined in its gripping plot.

Eleven-year-old Isobel Petty is alone in the world. On her way to England from India to live with her uncle, she is under the care of Mrs Colonel Hartington-Davis onboard the Marianna. It seems that Isobel can do nothing right. She is untidy, unloved and unacceptable. With no one else, she is forced into a friendship with Letitia Hartington-Davis and Sameer Khan, an unusual boy she meets on the ship.

When the children are the only witnesses of a late night, cold-blooded murder, they band together to use all of their detective and journalism skills to try to solve the case. They must observe everyone, keep secrets from the adults and discover just who has something to hide. They soon discover that everyone has a secret and nothing is as it seems.  With motives, suspects, and mysterious notes to consider, it doesn’t take long for the trio to get in over their heads. Only teamwork and trust will see them through.

This is a story of identity and value. Whether English, Indian, servant or master, the children explore the importance of a person’s place in the world, consider whether anyone can choose who they are and challenge the judgements made by those who believe they are in power or better than others. The passenger list for the ship is a microcosm of society at the time: adults, children, women, men, the elderly, servants, masters, people from different countries… Who deserves respect? Who is important? Who should be heard? 

This exciting mystery has so many layers to discuss. Children will be swept away in the story as they work with Isobel, Sam and Letitia to discover the truth while questioning the systemic racism of the British government and people living in India at the time. Teachers will find numerous opportunities to discuss how views have changed (or not changed) as well as details about geography, history and literature to develop children’s knowledge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story for so many reasons but I especially loved the confidence of each of the three main characters. So sure of themselves in their own ways, they are ready to take on the world and stand up for what they believe to be right no matter what.  

Thank you to Nosy Crow for this engaging mystery and thought-provoking story!

Click on the cover below to find out more or purchase on-line from Amazon.

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