This is a passenger announcement for all those travelling aboard the California Comet from Chicago to San Francisco, Sam Sedgman and M. G. Leonard deliver an irresistible middle-grade mystery and a wonderful ode to the joys of train travel. Kidnap on the California Comet is the second book in the Adventures on Trains series, the first, The Highland Falcon Thief, was one of my favourite reads of 2020. So with my bag packed, my travel sickness pill taken and sketchbook in hand I was all set for another joyous ride along the rails, this time in the U S of A, with loveable Uncle Nat and his nephew Hal.
New train enthusiast Hal Beckett’s life has been a bit boring since the excitement of events aboard the Highland Falcon. Luckily, Uncle Nat is on hand to offer the chance of another train adventure, this time on a three-day journey across sweeping American landscapes aboard the California Comet.
When Marianne Reza, the daughter of tech-billionaire August Reza, is kidnapped, Hal finds himself at the centre of another mystery. But can he uncover who is behind the kidnapping before the train reaches its destination and the criminals have a chance to escape…
I have so much chuffing love for this book and I think I loved it even more than the first. An adventure on the rails is always fun and if you travel with Hal Beckett and Uncle Nat there will be a mystery to solve. Hal’s adventure is full of new experiences, new friends, sharing stories and learning new skills whilst also experiencing the challenges of being in a new country and being far from home for the first time.
Sedgman’s passion for trains and his own experiences of taking the route that he writes about shines as bright as the desert sun. Train aficionados will appreciate the level of detail given to the train and the route whilst non-locomotive lovers will be hard-pressed to not fall in love with trains and all that their journeys have to offer, although kidnappings and detective work cannot be promised. With Uncle Nat regaling all sorts of useful nuggets of train information and expertly fulfilling the role of tour guide as the California Comet rattles along the tracks across America, it feels like you are riding the rails too.
Just as the California Comet races along the tracks, so the story unfolds at pace. Sedgman’s and Leonard’s storytelling is as slick and as polished as August Reza’s private carriage. Short, punchy chapters deliver closely observed action, plenty of red-herrings and misdirection that magician Hadley would be proud of. Passengers acting shiftily, dropped sweet wrappers, hoodies in the trash, secret messages, strange disguises and crumbs of clues will all lead to the unravelling of the kidnappers but will Hal, Hadley and Mason put all the pieces together in time before the train reaches its destination and the criminals disappear - I had a strong inkling but definitely need to work on my detective skills. When everything is finally revealed you’ll want to read it all over again to see if you can spot what at first you may have missed.
Revealing the narrative before your very eyes are the amazing illustrations by Elisa Paganelli (I am a massive fan of her artwork). It is such a clever idea to have Hal sketch what he sees and we get to see the adventure through the eyes of Hal as he records his journey - not only are these illustrations absolutely delightful, they are essential to the story and and help unravel the mystery, I found myself scouring them very closely in the hope of picking up any clues (no spoilers here though, you’ll have to look for yourself).
Whilst this can be read as a standalone when the storytelling is as good as this it would be a crime to not read the first! Both are cleverly written mysteries that keep you guessing and readers will love trying to solve the crimes alongside Hal.
Recommended for 8+.