I was lucky enough to request and be approved to read an early copy of this on netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All views and opinions are my own.
Adventures on Trains: Murder on the Safari Star by M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli, published by Macmillan
This is the third installment in what has fast become one of my favourite middle grade mystery series, Adventures on Trains.
If you’ve not already read the first books (The Highland Falcon Thief and Kidnap on The California Comet), the series centres on Hal who accompanies his Uncle Nat, a travel writer and train enthusiast, on amazing train journeys.
However, they seem to have a knack of landing themselves in the centre of it all as each journey sees a crime committed, with Hal (ably aided by friends on board and his uncle) combining sketching and sleuthing to solve the cases!
Each book can easily be read as a stand alone (but I promise you’ll want to go back and read the others straight after you finish!), with a completely new case, train and supporting cast each time. You can read my reviews of the first books here and here.
Here, we rejoin Hal and his Uncle Nat as they embark on another train ride of a lifetime, this time journeying through South Africa and Zimbabwe to Victoria Falls at Zambia’s border.
The African landscape they travel through and the wildlife they see, both from the train and on safari, really enhance the book, as do Elisa Paganelli’s wonderful illustrations.
There’s also a nice environmental theme running through this, with issues of smuggling, hunting and conservation highlighted. It would be perfect for fans of Lauren St John or Jess Butterworth who maybe haven’t tried this series yet.
So, in some ways, this very different setting gives it a very different vibe to the previous two. However, Leonard and Sedgman are a formidable writing duo who manage to keep it feeling very much in their style and in keeping with the earlier books too.
This is the perfect blend – it keeps it fresh and different, offers up new areas of interest, locations and themes, but ultimately you feel at home – I knew what to expect and was not disappointed!
From the get go, as we join Hal’s family on Christmas morning (which felt just as it should be for them; his dad was spot on!), there’s a warm and gentle tone set – yes, there’s crimes to solve, but there’s a security and light-heartedness too.
Then there’s his Uncle Nat’s unwavering support for, and their open discussion of, Hal’s on board sleuthing. I know I mention this after every book, but I make no apologies as it’s so refreshing to see this adult-child dynamic in a story rather than the missing, dead, cruel or stupid adults we often see.
And let’s not forget the level of detail and passion shown for the trains themselves. Carefully researched and cleverly dripped into the text through Nat’s experience and Hal’s interest in them and sketches, it never feels like an information dump but by the end of the book, we’ve found out all about the train they travel on, its history, route and features. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, I’d never have considered myself interested in trains but I’m always fascinated by what I find out in this series!
You can also expect a brilliant mix of characters on board in each book, including Hal’s new partner in crime (detection), in this case Winston…and his pet mongoose!
As ever, the characters/suspects were a great mix from the loathsome to the lovely to the famous and the fun. And of course, there’s suspicion and motive aplenty amongst them!
Like in the previous books, Hal’s sketches (courtesy of Elisa) are his means to documenting and solvimg the case, providing us with diagrams and sketches to aid the solving of te case. These are brilliant and complement the text so well.
I reached Hal’s initial sketch of the passengers as they gather at the start of the journey, present in every book, with proper tingles of excitement – “here we go!” – ready for another mystery to begin.
Because, of course, with young detective Hal and his Uncle aboard, this could never be an ordinary train ride! Helped by new friend Winston, Hal sets out on the trip convinced there’s a crime to solve, but even he couldn’t have foreseen the classic locked door murder he’s faced with!
As ever, I really enjoyed the solving of the case – I had my (correct) suspicions from early on but couldn’t piece them together to make it fit or figure out the hows, wheres and whys of it all so seeing the pieces slowly start to fall into place and Hal put it all together, well, I was glued to it!
I always enjoy the way the motives are explored in this series too; they never justify the crimes, but there’s a level of understanding there, they never feel senseless. This one in particular feels really well done, but I can’t say any more on that!
And of course, there was the obligatory musically themed chapter title for chapter eight, which I’ve now come to look forward to spotting in each one! (chapter 25 gave me a giggle too!)
I can’t recommend this series highly enough – fast-paced, fun and full of mystery, they are hugely gripping and entertaining reads and I am already eagerly awaiting book four which (from the teaser at the end of this) sounds like it’ll be amazing!