Good morning! It’s my first review of 2021 and actually my first review post since the end of October 2020! I just ended up in a complete slump as we reached the end of the year, but I was delighted when I finally picked up The Highland Falcon Thief so I’m really pleased to be sharing my review this morning!
Title: The Highland Falcon Thief
Author: M. G. Leonard & Sam Sedgman
Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books
Publication Date: 30th January 2020
About The Book…
Harrison Beck is reluctantly joining his travel-writer Uncle Nat for the last journey of the royal train, The Highland Falcon. But as the train makes its way to Scotland, a priceless brooch goes missing, and things suddenly get a lot more interesting. As suspicions and accusations run high among the passengers, Harrison begins to investigate and uncovers a few surprises along the way. Can he solve the mystery of the jewel thief and catch the culprit before they reach the end of the line?
Young Harrison Beck really does not want to join his uncle on the Highland Falcon’s last journey. He knows he is being sent away as his mum is due to give birth any day and he’s worried about her. Add that to the fact he hardly knows the uncle he is being sent away with and he is not a happy young boy. However, he soon finds he cannot fight the magic of a journey being pulled along the rails by a steam train and he begins to fall in love with the magic of steam and enjoy himself. Hal also discovers there is a stowaway on board and when jewellery starts to go missing, he finds it falls to him to prove his new friend’s innocence.
I thought the plot of The Highland Falcon Thief was thoroughly enjoyable. I have always been a huge fan of a good mystery book, and still find them to be my go-to genre whatever the age range the book is primarily written for. Maya and Sam managed to wonderfully combine the mystery of the thefts, and Hal’s investigation with the magic of a railway book. While taking the time to introduce all the characters, especially Hal and Uncle Nat the story still moved on quickly. I think one of the key things for me is the way there were little hints, and red herrings, along the way. Things that when the truth was revealed I could look back and think oh yes, now a certain action makes sense. I didn’t feel at all cheated by the revelation and I think that is crucial for a mystery novel no matter what age range it’s aimed at.
The Highland Falcon Thief isn’t about a crime that just happens to occur on a train, the Highland Falcon itself along with the journey it takes form a key part of the book and as someone who grew up being obsessed with trains, be that sitting playing with my own trainset as a child or dragging family members to every steam railway I could find I loved this. I really appreciated the level of detail given to the route, as someone who grew up in the South West and made regular journeys to London before moving to Scotland for university. I’ve spent a lot of time travelling up and down the country on trains and I enjoyed spotting certain features that I’m familiar with, including the Forth Bridge which I now live a few minutes from and in normal times forms part of my daily commute to the office.
I think what really makes this book special (alongside the Highland Falcon herself) is the superb cast of characters that Maya and Sam bring to life in the story.
Hal was a character that grew on me quickly, although in the very beginning he seemed a little standoffish it quickly became clear that this was a mixture of worry about his mum, and the fact he was being shipped off with a relative stranger, despite the fact Nat is his uncle. It was really enjoyable to see him open up as he got to know his uncle a little better and made friends with Lenny and begin to understand the magic of this special train journey. He quickly became an interesting and likeable character, and I enjoyed seeing his development and his determination to find out the truth. Although I wouldn’t recommend one of his final acts, no matter how brave it was!
Uncle Nat was also a fantastic character and quite frankly has a job the I probably still would love to have. Who wouldn’t enjoy getting to go on special an exotic train journeys and writing about them as a job? It sounds great fun, and I am really looking forward to catching up with the pair of them again in the next book.
A special mention also must go to the wonderful cast of supporting characters. I won’t mention them all in detail for fear of spoilers, but I loved being introduced to a full range of characters from the driver, fireman and other staff onboard the Highland Falcon, through to Hal and Nat’s fellow guests and the Prince and Princess themselves. I think it is safe to say that some were far more likeable than others. A quick mention has to go to Mohanjit Singh, the train driver, and his daughter Lenny. Although I don’t expect them to appear as main characters in future books, I really hope they are not completely forgotten and perhaps we get the odd mention of what they’re up to, especially as Lenny and Hal seemed to become such good friends.
I couldn’t finish this review without giving a special mention to the wonderful illustrator Elisa Paganelli. Her incredible illustrations really help bring Maya and Sam’s characters to life! They really are wonderful, I also benefited from purchasing the Waterstones edition which I believe has extra illustrations introducing all the characters so if it’s still available I would highly recommend this version!
I absolutely adored this first adventure on a train! I loved Thomas The Tank Engine and railways in general when I was a little girl so having a book like this to graduate too back then would have been wonderful! I already own the second book and I’ve preordered the third. I can’t wait to read them!
More M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman on SWB
About The Authors…
M. G. Leonard is an award-winning, bestselling writer of children’s books for all ages. Her books have been translated into over forty languages. She is currently writing the popular Adventures on Trains series.
She burst onto the literary scene with her quirky debut Beetle Boy, and is now a vice president of insect charity Buglife. She and her beetles have appeared on Blue Peter, Springwatch Unsprung, Countryfile, Meet the Author with James Naughtie, Sky News, and featured in the BBC documentary, The Bug Couple. A TV series based on the Beetle Boy books is currently in development.
Maya lives in Brighton with her husband, two sons and pet beetles. She spent her early career in the music industry running Setanta Records, an independent record label and managing bands, most notably The Divine Comedy. After leaving the music industry, she trained as an actor, dabbling in directing and producing as well as performing, before becoming a digital producer for Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre and Harry Potter West End.
Maya is one of the founding authors of #Authors4Oceans, with Lauren St John, campaigning to reduce single-use plastics.
Connect With Maya
Sam Sedgman is a bestselling author, playwright and an award-winning digital producer. He has a first class honours degree from the University of Warwick in English and Creative Writing, and holds a Master’s in Text and Performance from RADA and King’s College London.
His first novel for young readers, The Highland Falcon Thief, was published by Macmillan in January 2020, followed swiftly by its sequel, Kidnap on the California Comet, in September. Co-written with his friend M. G. Leonard, the books are the first instalments of the middle grade series Adventures On Trains.
Before becoming a writer, Sam worked as a digital consultant for the National Theatre’s On Demand In Schools project, as well as hosting and co-producing their podcast. He previously worked as a freelance digital producer for arts and literature organisations across the country, and founded a company creating bespoke murder mystery treasure hunts for adventurous Londoners.
His plays have been performed in three countries, and his work has been shortlisted for The Courtyard Theatre Award. He has written articles on culture, technology and free speech for various publications including The Guardian and Complex UK. He lives in London.
Connect With Sam
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As always if you’ve read the book let me know what you thought! If you’ve not read it yet will my review convince you to pick it up?