Sam Sedgman and M. G. Leonard remain firmly on the right tracks with their third book in the Adventures on Trains series.
After two train adventures with Uncle Nat, Hal Beckett has definitely got the travelling bug and is eagerly looking forward to another ride along the rails. Uncle Nat delivers the perfect Christmas present when hiding inside a box of charcoal drawing crayons is a ticket for a journey on the Safari Star and a ride across Africa beginning in Pretoria and ending at the Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.
It should be the adventure of a lifetime with incredible views of unique landscapes, open plains and wild animals. But when a big game hunter aboard the train becomes the hunted and is found dead in his compartment, it is up to Hal to determine whether it was an unfortunate accident or a terrible crime…
It is full steam ahead in the series that keeps on giving. We’ve had a theft and a kidnapping and just when I thought it couldn’t get any better I’m treated to a murder and the illegal smuggling of animal products. What should be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday spotting wildlife turns into a Murder on the Orient Express style adventure with a dead body and a culprit that can only be one of the passengers.
This is by far Hal’s most dangerous and gripping adventure yet and the action, much like the train, rattles along at break-neck speed. It is a thrilling journey of secret compartments, iron-clad alibis, illegal activity, wonderful landscapes and endangered animals. With everyone with a reason to want the brash and rude Mervyn Crosby dead, it is also Hal's most complicated case. Assembled aboard the train are an eclectic bunch of passengers and as the action unfolds so do the stories that intertwine the lives of these seemingly random group of people.
Like the previous adventures, Hal finds friendship and his crime-fighting endeavours are ably supported by Winston. Something that I love so much about the series is that there are children having fun and experiencing the wonders of train travel and you genuinely feel like you are there along for the ride. Despite the authors not taking the journey themselves everything has been thoroughly researched, from the information on trains that Uncle Nat frequently shares to the route itself that winds its way across the African plains.
I’m in awe at how Sedgman and Leonard keep everything fresh and original. I was feeling confident that I could use my prior knowledge and detective skills garnered from their first two books to unmask their clues and avoid the red-herrings but despite my best efforts I was still fairly clueless as to who was behind the crime - then when everything was revealed and all the pieces fell into place I was berating myself for missing the glaringly obvious!
As in the previous books in the series, Elisa Paganelli is entrusted to bring the mystery to life and she does an exceptional job once again - I honestly run out of superlatives to describe her work. I love seeing the action unfold through Hal’s sketches and it is always a treat to find the next piece of artwork that I can cast my magnifying glass over in the hope of finding any hidden clues.
The series shows no signs of derailing anytime sign and I am chuffing delighted. Next up is Danger at Dead Man’s Pass and I have my ticket and sketch book ready to go.
Recommended for 8+.