The Highland Falcon Thief

The Highland Falcon Thief was written by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman and first published in 2020. It is a mystery story aimed at middle grade readers, focusing on two youths who set out to capture a jewel thief. The novel forms the first part of the Adventures on Trains series and its sequel, Kidnap on the California Comet, is due for release later this year.

Harrison “Hal” Beck isn’t overly happy to stay with his Uncle Nathaniel, a famous travel writer. He wants to be there for his mother while she gives birth and has no interest in spending four days cooped up on a train. However, the train in question is the legendary Highland Falcon and Hal quickly learns that there is nothing quite like it. He will be travelling all around the country as part of a very special group of guests, celebrating the train’s final journey.

While Hal’s first impressions of the train are not great, he gains a newfound appreciation as he befriends Marlene “Lenny” Singh, a stowaway and daughter of the train driver. The journey grows more interesting still as a couple of guests report that their jewels have gone missing. Industrialist Steven Pickle is quick to blame Hal, and the boy starts to investigate to clear his name. Hal and Lenny suspect that it may be a famous thief who has recently made the papers, and that they could have their sights set on a huge diamond that belongs to a princess who will be boarding at Balmoral.

Using Hal’s keen observations and Lenny’s knowledge of the train, the two team up to try and uncover which of the guests is the culprit and learn that everyone is hiding secrets. When Lenny is captured and accused of the crime, Hal enters a race against time to prove her innocence before the train arrives back in London and the thief can make their getaway.

The Highland Falcon Thief was a wonderful start to this series. It presented a story that was fast-paced, engaging and surprisingly education. As Leonard’s previous series – The Battle of the Beetles – sought to educate middle grade readers about insects, this book is designed to show how fascinating trains can be. Using Hal, an every-man who initially believes that trains are boring, it does a fantastic job of showing how complex trains are, as well as the beauty of the English countryside and the amazing majesty of steam travel.

As you might imagine, the novel is absolutely crammed full of facts and a quick glance at the afterword shows that the authors have put just as much research into making this novel as accurate as possible as Leonard did while writing Beetle Boy. These facts are neatly integrated into the story in a way that never felt clumsy. Although the Highland Falcon is a fictional train, it is modelled on the Mallard and therefore does a brilliant job of recreating how this train functioned.

The novel is also full of beautiful illustrations, all drawn by Elisa Paganelli, which help to capture both the way that the train looks and the large cast of suspects. These neatly bring to life every sketch that Hal makes in his notebook over the course of the story. I loved that this helped to add a sense of realism to the tale, as well as providing even more hidden clues that Hal’s subconscious managed to pick up.

The plot regarding the jewellery theft is incredibly quick to find its feet, as Hal and Lenny soon realise that they only have a few days to uncover the culprit before they can escape at the final station. The mystery elements of The Highland Falcon Thief are really well-written and take its young readers very seriously.

The eventual solution is clever and very possible, but the thing that I enjoyed most was that the novel did contain clues for eagle-eyed readers to come to this conclusion by themselves. Leonard and Sedgman are evidently very talented at writing mysteries as the solution is not easy to spot, with many red herrings disguising the thief’s identity along the way. I really can’t wait to read the novel again to see how many hints I overlooked first time around!

The plot of The Highland Falcon Thief flowed wonderfully and never became dull. In fact, the final chapters were where I felt the novel hit its absolute peak. With Lenny captured and time running out, Hal was forced to take a few calculated risks in order to gain the evidence that he needed to be able to clear her name.

In terms of character, the novel was also incredibly strong. Hal and Lenny make a wonderful pair of protagonists, both bringing their own unique strengths to the investigation. They even had complementary personalities, with Hal being a lot more cautious than headstrong and lively Lenny. The thing that I enjoyed most about their characters was the way that Leonard and Sedgman switched up the typical “gender roles”. Lenny, the female protagonist, had a deep rooted love of machines and dreamed of one day becoming a train driver like her father. Hal, on the other hand, was more of a worrier. He showed concern towards his mother’s well-being and what it means to be a big brother, loved animals, and wanted nothing more than to become an artist.

The supporting cast of the novel were equally vibrant, presenting a complex selection of overblown adults to become the short-list of potential villains. These range from ill-tempered businessmen, to royalty, to train staff. Uncle Nat, in particular, stood out as one of the most colourful characters in the story – an eccentric journalist and author who still had plenty of time for his nephew. I loved the way that Uncle Nat took everything that Hal told him so seriously and had utmost faith in his nephew’s ability to solve the crime. It’s always great to find such supportive adults in middle grade novels.

So, all in all, I truly loved this book and would certainly recommend it to all young readers. I’m really excited to get my hands on Kidnap on the California Comet when it is released in September!

The Highland Falcon Thief can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Kidnap on the California Comet | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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