Kidnap on the California Comet

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Highland Falcon Thief. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Kidnap on the California Comet was written by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman and first published in 2020. It is a mystery novel that follows the continuing adventures of Harrison Beck as, this time, he and his Uncle Nat journey across America. The book forms the second part of the Adventures on Trains series, following The Highland Falcon Thief (2020). A third instalment – Murder on the Safari Star – is planned for release early next year.

Harrison “Hal” Beck had such a great time with his Uncle Nat on the Highland Falcon that he’s overjoyed to be invited on another train ride. This time, Uncle Nat is going to spend three days aboard the California Comet as it travels from Chicago to San Francisco. While aboard, he is going to be reporting on a press conference staged by August Reza – a billionaire entrepreneur who is believed to be working on some kind of rocket.

Although Hal is jet lagged and bit nervous to be so far from home, he is really excited to be on the train. He quickly makes friends with Hadley and Mason – a pair of kids his age who dream of creating their own magical stage act. He also meets Marianne – daughter of August Reza – who does not seem to like her father as much as everyone else does.

While the first leg of their journey is uneventful, things change after the press conference when a figure in black snatches Marianne away. As Hal comes to suspect that Marianne might still be hidden on the train, he finds himself in the middle of another mystery. Can his keen sense of observation help him to uncover the kidnapper’s identity before they reach San Francisco?

I really enjoyed The Highland Falcon Thief when I reviewed it a couple of months ago and so was excited to discover that it already had a sequel. All in all, I though that this was a fantastic read that was almost as strong as the first novel. The story was fast-paced and exciting, presenting a very different (and wider reaching) mystery for Hal and his new friends to solve. While I usually suggest that readers start at the beginning of a series, I don’t actually feel that it is necessary for this one. While this novel does refer back to the events of The Highland Falcon Thief, it can be easily read and enjoyed in its own right.

As with The Highland Falcon Thief, the research that went into this novel was staggering. This time, Hal and Uncle Nat travel half way across American on three-day trip by diesel train. Due to this, the feel of the novel was incredibly different. The California Comet was a different kind of vehicle to titular steam train of the first book, and it was interesting to learn more about what American trains were like. My only small disappointment with the story was that there wasn’t more of this. In the first book, Hal learned all about the workings of the train and little of this history of rail travel in England. While he does make some observations about the scenery as they pass, the novel this time focused far more on the mystery.

Yet the plot itself was enthralling. Kidnap on the California Comet was fast to find its feet and follow Hal as he searched for clues as to what happened to Marianne. While I must admit that one specific point did cause me to guess the answer quite early on, the story was peppered with plenty of clues and red herrings to keep young readers guessing. I loved the that the way that the novel also goes so far as to hide clues in Elisa Paganelli’s gorgeous illustrations – I had to flick back and find some of these late in the tale as Hal realised that he had captured important details!

The novel builds to a very satisfying climax, once again leading to a thrilling final few chapters as Hal finally confronts the guilty party and reveals the trick to their plan. I won’t spoil this for you here, but I will just say that I loved the way that everything came together. Much like in the previous book, Hal proves that just because he is young does not mean that he’s not intelligent. It is once again his eye for detail and talents as an artist that ultimately save the day.

In terms of character, Kidnap on the California Comet is also really strong. While I was disappointed that Lenny was absent this time around, I do admit that this does make sense. It allows the story to explore the bond that you make with friends on journeys, which felt especially poignant this time around. Hal is as strong a protagonist as ever and I loved his confidence and faith in his powers of observation. His new friends – Hadley and Mason – were also very memorable. I loved the way that their unique talents (Hadley’s sleight of hand tricks and Mason’s ability to imitate voices) also helped Hal in his investigation.

The supporting cast was also wonderfully colourful, ranging from a billionaire tech genius who came across as being a bit of a cross between Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, to a kooky woman who was travelling with her pet bearded dragon riding on her shoulder. I loved the way that all of these characters added to mystery, each suspicious in their own right until Hal managed to figure out their secrets. It helped to make the story feel all the richer.

Sorry for the short review, but I don’t want to say more in case I spoil the plot! All in all, I loved Kidnap on the California Comet and would definitely recommend it to young mystery fans. I really can’t wait to see where Hal’s next train adventure will take him!

Kidnap on the California Comet can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook & Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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