Who doesn’t love a good murder-mystery? Perfect for middle-grade readers, this spine-tingling historical detective story is the first in a new series by Sophie Cleverly (author of the Scarlet and Ivy series). Sophie has written many books for children, many with a historical element.
Sophie Cleverly transports us back in time to the Victorian era when societal expectations restricted female ambition and frustrated women’s attempts to be taken as seriously as their male counterparts. The main character, Violet, is a quick-witted and courageous young girl who is determined to prove that she is capable enough to commence an apprenticeship in her father’s business. The family have a much different path in mind for Violet so are not supportive of her ambition. She rebels against the pathway she sees before her and yearns for the same privileges as her brother.
There is a gothic undertone to this novel that children will find appealing. Violet’s father is an undertaker, they live in the grounds of a graveyard, and Violet can sense messages from the inhabitants of the graves and mausoleums. Violet’s sidekick in her adventures is Oliver, a young boy who was delivered to the undertaker for burial but is very much alive and keen to discover who is responsible for his predicament. Together with Violet’s trusty and smart black greyhound, Bones, the two children team up to save Violet’s father from unlawful incarceration, restore his reputation and ensure the family remains financially secure.
Horse-drawn carriages, gas lamps and other Victorian-era references show how people lived in the Victorian era. Even though Violet isn’t sent to school (no school for girls in her family, only for the boys) she is reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There’s plenty here to spark interest in further investigation of the historical era, and prompt discussion about the differences between that era and the present day.
Though it’s spookily gothic there’s also plenty of fun and mischief. Violet is a courageous and sharp-witted girl, who demonstrates great determination and zest for life. Oliver is a brave boy who proves to be a loyal friend, even in the face of grave danger. These two plucky children challenge adults, push the boundaries, outwit the villains and the truth prevails! This book is suitable for independent readers aged 9+. If you are a Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett or Jessica Townsend fan, then this book will be a good way to introduce that style of writing to your young reader.