There are a plethora of mystery and detective books available to meet the needs of young sleuths of all ages. Recent titles such as The Bigwoof Conspiracy, the Murder Most Unladylike series, the Adventures on Trains series and High-Rise Mystery are all modern, slick and bang-up-to-date. That said, I do love a mystery with a more classic feel to it and Lauren St John’s read has lots of Famous Five vibes that brought back lots of wonderful childhood memories of adventuring with the four friends and their dog.
Dead Man’s Cove is the first in a series of books starring wanna-be detective Laura Marlin, an eleven-year-old who has spent most of her life in the care of the authorities at Sylvan Meadows Children’s Home. Laura has spent brief periods of time with foster families but none have them have provided a forever home. Her luck changes when she learns of an uncle that has agreed to take her into his care. With dreams of adventures, ice-creams, sunny beaches and making friends she is driven to St. Ives and is greeted by a dimly lit home, unwelcoming weather and a frosty reception from Uncle Calvin.
But first impressions can often be deceiving and Uncle Calvin is kind-hearted and gives Laura everything she could have ever wanted. Most important of all, he gives Laura freedom that she has never experienced before. His only rule is to avoid the dangerous coastal path and to never venture towards Dead Man’s Cove. Seems easy enough but as Laura begins to explore the quaint village of St. Ives and learns more about the residents who call it home she unravels one mystery after another and has questions that need answering. Where does Uncle Calvin disappear to in the middle of the night? What is Tariq, the shopkeeper’s son, hiding? Why is housekeeper Mrs. Webb acting suspiciously and can she believe everything that neighbour Mrs. Crabtree says? Laura wanted an adventure and she is most certainly going to get one.
It is easy to draw lots of similarities with Enid Blyton’s well-loved books and this one. St John delivers a lead female protagonist with short cut hair, a dog, the seaside setting and plenty of mystery. And it all makes for a really enjoyable read. Dead Man’s Cove is full of suspense and twists where nothing or no-one is quite what they seem. What should be the start of a wonderful new life for Laura is soon disrupted by mysterious shop owners, a nosy neighbour, an uncle who is not entirely honest and an old secret smugglers route hidden amongst the cliffs. There are plenty of secrets in St. Ives and it isn’t long before Laura finds herself trying to unravel several mysteries and as the drama unfolds Laura invariably finds herself at the one place she was never to go and faces a perilous life or death situation. Taking inspiration from Matt Walker, the detective hero in the books she loves to read, Laura Marlin proves she is more than up to uncovering the secrets of St. Ives. Nothing will stop the courageous, brave and adventurous heroine with an eye for the truth.
Set in one of my favourite parts of the UK, the rugged Cornish coastline, St John does a great job of portraying the picturesque village of St. Ives as beautiful by day with its quaint laneways, cute cafés and sandy beaches but as night falls she ramps up the tension as darkness brings out the dark alleyways and shady figures that move in the shadows.
A delightful classic mystery with all the traditional traits of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five but with a modern, independent and brilliant twenty-first century heroine.
Recommended for 9+.