Not all books make it on to my ‘to be read’ pile, some are given a fast-track pass and I begin reading them right away, Sabotage on the Solar Express is definitely one such book. Adventures on Trains has quickly become one of my favourite series of books and I was eagerly anticipating the arrival of the fifth title. It is hard to believe that only two years ago the first book, The Highland Falcon Thief, rolled out of the station. Since then, the adventures and mysteries have continued to come along with regularity, much to my reading pleasure.
Hal and his Uncle Nat are thrilled to be in Australia and to be joining a group of select guests to ride on tech-billionaire August Reza’s latest project, the Solar Express - the winning design of a futuristic train competition and brainchild of STEM whizz-kid, fourteen-year-old Boaz Tudawali. What should be a dream trip quickly becomes the stuff of nightmares when it becomes apparent that the train has been sabotaged, plunging everyone into grave danger. With the train hurtling along, it is up to Hal to identify the saboteur and put a stop to their deadly plans before it is too late…
So much to love about this thrilling and exciting mystery; an out of control train, double-crosses, mutinies, explosive devices, thrilling rescues and last second escapes provide more than enough to keep pulses racing and to have readers on the edge of their seats. The concept of the Solar Express is fantastic; using and recycling natural resources and negating the need for the burning of fossil fuels, it could change train travel forever.
With the heart-stopping action of a Hollywood blockbuster and all of the twists and turns of a Hercule Poirot classic, M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman deliver another rip-roaring ride along the rails. It honestly reads like a movie with certain passages of the book immediately sending me back to the 90’s, think Speed, and 2010’s Unstoppable. Even the chapter titles are titles of action movies.
Told at breakneck pace, which is perfectly in keeping with the speed of the train and the sense of urgency felt by all on board, this is another gripping read and I think it is my favourite one yet. Excitement, adrenaline and action are cranked up to the max in a deadly high stakes game with life or death consequences where somebody will go to any lengths to derail the train with little thought for the passengers on board. In the middle of the Outback with no phone signal, no wifi connection and no comms system it is up to resourceful children and Boaz’s expertise in all things STEM to stand up and show the adults how it is done.
All three children really shine in this adventure. Whereas Hal’s Uncle Nat is often the lead ‘detective’, this time Hal takes a more prominent role and comes across as much more confident and decisive. It is great to see the return of Marianne, the daughter of August Reza. The last time Hal saw Marianne was in Kidnap on the California Comet and things were somewhat frosty. It was great to see them reunite, work together and bond under the most trying of circumstances. Marianne is awesome, stepping up to the plate when the adults fail to take control and she repeatedly shows her leadership qualities. Boaz is just brilliant; a scientifically minded problem solver who is the kind of guy you want when a train is rattling along and your chances of getting off alive look very slim.
As always, Leonard and Sedgman bring alive the setting and throw readers into the heart of the great Australian Outback. So many little Australian references; the landscape, the searing heat, the Royal Flying Doctors Service, the mention of the recent bushfires, Boaz’s connection to the land. They are masterful storytellers who, I’m afraid to say, outwitted me again. I must, must, must pay closer attention to Elisa Paganelli’s superb artwork. Once again, Paganelli’s illustrations of what Hal sees and documents in his notebook are first-class and hold as many clues in them as the text (not that I managed to spot them). They are an absolute highlight for me, wonderful stuff!
Hal and Uncle Nat will be back later this year in The Arctic Railway Assassin.
With huge thanks to Pan Macmillan for the copy I received in exchange for an honest review.
Recommended for 9+.