I’ve had this song in my head for days! And it’s all thanks to this little gem of a book:
I know I may be a bit late to the Sylvia Bishop party – I still haven’t got round to reading her books for younger readers ‘The Bookshop Girl‘ and ‘Erica’s Elephant‘ (probably because my ‘resolution’ to read more younger children’s fiction, those between picture books and MG, still hasn’t really got off the ground! Maybe these books will kickstart that?!) But I loved the look and the sound of this one straight away and reading Sylvia’s description of her trip on the night train cemented the deal on Bookloverjo’s blog, so I was very glad to have the chance to read and review the copy Scholastic sent me (thank you!)
One small girl. An unexpected detective. A handful of suspects.
All aboard the night train, where no-one is what they seem.
As Max takes off on a thrilling journey across Europe by train, can she unravel the mystery of a priceless missing diamond and find a way to bring the jewel thief to justice?
Off to visit her Great Aunt Elodie in Istanbul, Max sets off by train and unwittingly stumbles into the role of detective as she finds that the suspect (and diamond!) from a recent burglary are thought to be on board the train! Each chapter of the book is set on the next stage of her journey and sees us whisked from Paris through Munich, Budapest and Bucharest to Istanbul.
I loved the time we ‘spent’ in Budapest particularly: the description of the place combined with the humour of Max’s investigative attempts were pitch-perfect and had me smiling right through. And this is common throughout the book. The way in which each destination is described is so cleverly done: this is not a book full of flowery, scene-setting paragraphs but I felt I’d just stepped off the train with Max at every stop: each place given a distinct character, geography and culture with just a few well-chosen details dropped into the story or Max’s first impressions of places and without it interrupting the flow or the pace of the story.
Max is an immediately likeable character and with a voice that feels very believable and just right for her age: while she falls into role as sleuth, she is not suddenly an expert nor bursting with confidence, she’s still slightly unsure and a careful thinker. Similarly, she is curious: yearning for an adventure to break the everyday routine and dreaming of seeing the world, but when on her way is still as apprehensive as any child leaving home for the first time would be.
From Sister Marguerite and her Mary-Poppins’-bag-like-habit to the clumsy Robert to the frightfully bolshy and rude Ester and knitting ‘hulk’ Klaus, all of the characters have a touch of the eccentric and absurd about them. But they all have back-stories and well-drawn personalities which make them much more than caricatures and, while retaining a huge dollop of humour, become just as enjoyable to read and root for (or against!) as Max is.
The story itself is fast-paced, witty and a carefully balanced mix of slapstick (the scene at Marek, Marek es Ruszy springs to mind!), twist-and-turn-filled adventure, mad-cap plans and suspects with secrets to hide. It whizzes along and keeps you guessing along with Max about who the culprit could be (some parts are more easy to work out than others, but it doesn’t spoil the fun!) With perfectly suited, lively illustrations that are equally full of character from Marco Guadalupi, this is a very enjoyable read!