The Mystery Society is made up of myself, Lily over at Lily And the Fae and Amy at Golden Books Girl. We decided to buddy read The Laura Marlin Mysteries as we’re all big fans of MG mysteries, but I’d never read these and Lily and Amy were keen to revisit them.
So, we were all approaching Dead Man’s Cove from different starting points; Lily had read it before but wanted to revisit it; Amy has read it multiple times as it’s one of her all-time favourite books; and I had never read it!
These different starting points have given us all different perspectives and take aways, which has been really interesting to see so make sure to visit Amy and Lily’s blogs too – marvel at Lily’s gorgeous casebook here and be filled with the infectious joy of Amy’s love for this book here!
Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St John, illustrated by David Dean, published by Hachette.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable tale of intrigue and secrets on the Cornish coast.
While I’ve never been to Cornwall, I felt this conjured an image of it splendidly; the beaches, cliffs and bays; the rain and waves and sunshine; the mix of locals, tourists and the relating shops and cafes; the seafront houses and fishing boats… I felt like I was exploring it all alongside Laura, who herself is new to the town.
Until now, she’s grown up in Sylvan Meadows Children’s Home, when she’s not been moving from one foster family to another, after the death of her mother.
While this was only a very small part of the story, I loved the little details thst allowed us to see Laura’s life had been far from easy but that neither had she grown up in a cruel and punishing orphanage with a villain of an owner (which, if you know me, will know is one of my most detested MG tropes!)
Instead, the staff are caring and she is looked after. It’s no family home and no one’s first choice, but it felt refreshing to see a fictional child in care who was being treated properly and not scrubbing toilets and eating gruel.
Anyway, rant over! Even from this early part of the story, it was made very clear that Laura was capable, ambitious and curious – traits which would stand her in good stead when she moved in with her mysterious Uncle Calvin.
Calvin is a great character. There’s a sense of secrecy and a buried past that immediately sets us to wondering, and not just us but Laura too. But never did I worry this secret past was nefarious; the way he is with Laura and the way their relationship develops is lovely to read.
His housekeeper on the other hand…! Well, just as great a character for the complete opposite reasons! Mrs Webb is suspicious with a capital S! And not very likeable at all!
And so Laura begins to settle in but is seemingly surrounded by mysteries – what is Calvin hiding? What was Mrs Webb looking at? And what’s the deal with Tariq and the Mukhtars?
Mr and Mrs Mukhtar own the local shop, with Tariq working there most days. Laura and Tariq slowly begin to make friends, despite Tariq’s silence and apparent poor grasp of English, until he suddenly no longer wants to be friends…
And so she unwittingly stumbles into an adventure, filled with messages in bottles, smuggling rings and clandestine midnight outings on the coastal path.
I loved the secret message scenarios that began with the message in a bottle – so creative and intriguing, it was one of my favourite things about the book.
I also thought the way Lauren St John manages to bring together local geographical and historical themes like fishing and smuggling with modern slavery, immigration and gangs. It was refreshing to see these themes tackled in a more rural setting and they’re touched on in such a careful way for young readers.
I really loved the way these themes were gradually unveiled too. There were hints throughout but not eniugh to completely figure it out and the final reveal when the delivery was made was brilliant!
Overall, this has the feel of a classic mystery adventure, but with much more modern characters and themes. Laura is a great main character and, while I don’t quite share Amy’s passion for Calvin, he’s up there with MMU’s Felix or Adventures on Trains’ Nat for most excellent MG adult support role! Plus, dogs. If you like dogs, there are some canine companions you’ll love too.
I’m very much looking forward to Kidnap in the Caribbean!
Have you read the Laura Marlin Mysteries?