I’m not usually one for train journeys as I suffer from quite severe travel sickness but I would make an exception for a journey on the Highland Falcon. The Highland Falcon Thief is the first book in a series called Adventures on Trains written as a collaborative effort by M.G Leonard and Sam Sedgman. Leonard is best known for her award winning ‘Battle of the Beetles’ trilogy, whilst for Sedgman this is his debut offering in children’s literature. The duo have written a chuffing great read, and Sedgman’s enthusiasm and expertise on all things train related gives the story real authenticity.
Hal Beckett doesn’t want to go on a train, “They‘re boring.” But with his mum about to give birth he is reluctantly accompanying his Uncle Nat for the grand farewell tour of the Highland Falcon. Soon enough, things start to get a lot more interesting for Hal as precious jewellery disappears and he becomes the most likely culprit. He must identify the actual thief, relying on help from a most surprising source.
Aboard the train, we are introduced to an eclectic mix of characters who are vividly brought to life through colourful descriptions and believable backstories and you quickly come to have your favourites. The polar opposite of Hal and Lenny play off brilliantly against one another, I personally have a soft spot for the all-action and mischievous Lenny.
I love the way the mystery unfolds. There are enough red-herrings to keep the reader guessing, but not so many that the narrative becomes confusing. As much as I was doing my own detective work throughout the read, I failed miserably to identify the culprit.
Elisa Paganelli’s pencil illustrations are wonderful and I was filled with added excitement whenever I turned a page to find one. They bring to life what Hal is experiencing aboard the train and it is worth taking a pause just to marvel at the detail and precision in Paganelli’s work. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a copy with the additional illustrations of the train and its passengers, and I’m so glad I did.
The book perfectly captures the petulance of youth when being forced to do something they do not want to do. As the narrative progresses we see how wonderful it is when we allow ourselves to be open to new experiences - it made me want to try out something new and have all those first time moments. The read serves as a lesson in justice and is an important teaching that whilst it may be easy to point the finger and attribute blame you must always have the correct facts if you are going to find the truth. It is also about friendship and how friendships can often be found in the most surprising of places. In an increasingly multi-cultural yet segregated society, it was refreshing to see two characters of different ethnicities and backgrounds getting along so well together.
The authenticity of the story makes it all the more enjoyable. Whilst the Highland Falcon is a fictional train, the royal carriage and the A4 locomotive that pulls it are both based on truths. Details of the mechanics of steam power are brought to life when Hal is on the footplate and I found myself experiencing the same awe and amazement as he does. For the true train adventurer, if you fancy taking in the same sights and sounds as the Highland Falcon then you can travel the route, for the most part.
What Leonard and Sedgman deliver is a fast-paced, hilarious, nail-biting adventure-mystery ride around the UK aboard the Highland Falcon and all its grandeur. The story definitely has a Murder On the Orient Express vibe (minus the murder) and it’s great to have a story of this nature for children. I strongly recommend children of 8+ buy a ticket and jump on board. Even Hal, the most reluctant of train passengers, is a train travel enthusiast by the end. I can’t wait for his next adventure…all aboard the California Comet which is released later this year.
Recommended for 8+.