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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Thrilling Thursday Review: The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse by Caroline Lawrence

This Western Mystery featuring a 12 yr old oddball detective was great fun!

Author: Caroline Lawrence
Title: The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse
Series: The P. K. Pinkerton Mysteries (book 2)
Genre: Mystery, Western (kids)
Publisher: Orion Children's
Published: June 7 2012

Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher

Find it at Amazon UK or Goodreads

The blurb says:
P.K. Pinkerton is back in the second book of this whip-crackingly brilliant series set in America's Wild West.

The death of sadistic desperado Whittlin Walt has created an opening for 'Chief of the Comstock Desperados'. Several young gunfighters are battling it out in the saloons and streets of Virginia City, and against this backdrop of gunmen, gamblers and cowboys, P.K. Pinkerton, Private Eye, is having trouble drumming up business. Nobody seems to take a 12-year-old detective seriously!

Then a servant girl named Martha begs P.K. for help. She witnessed the murder of her mistress - a hurdy girl - and the killer knows it. Now he is after her. Martha gives P.K. a description of the killer and a cryptic clue, but then she disappears. Can P.K. solve the case and find Martha before the killer does?

My verdict: Great story, told in an amazing voice. Strongly recommended for 10+
This book does a fabulous job of bringing the Wild West to modern kids without shying away from unpleasant details, at the same time not overloading them. Having P. K. narrate means that we get a child's eye view which is at once naive and realistic. There are shootings, men of extremely dubious morals and prostitutes in this story, set against a background of Civil War, slavery and crime. And yet, this is a children's book which I would happily read to/with my 8 yr old in a year or so. There is nothing grisly or gratuitious, P. K.'s matter-of-fact narration avoids any glorification or romanticisation of the less savoury aspects, and it's all done subtly enough for the younger readers to remain blissfully unaware of some of the detail.

P.K.'s voice is so compelling. I really haven't read another book like it. It's been compared to Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" because both narrators seem to be on the autism spectrum (P.K. refers to having a "thorn" which makes interpreting non-verbal cues difficult, and also means being touched is unwelcome), but there are key differences. I would say that Haddon's book is more 'about' Christopher being autistic, whereas here it is just one aspect of P. K.'s character. Caroline Lawrence also uses P. K.'s naivety as a narrator to more humorous effect - this naivety coming as much from age as it does from the 'thorn'.

The plot works well as a mystery, with a satisfying conclusion which is set up effectively through the story. As with all good mysteries, there are subplots and side tracks to confound the reader as well as the detective. Historical accuracy is important to the author (she also wrote the Roman Mysteries, for which the Classical Association have honoured her with a prize), so you can be sure that kids will learn something of the US from the nineteenth century simply by immersing themselves in P.K.'s world for a while. I particularly enjoyed the insertion of Sam Clemens at the earliest stage of his journalistic career (later to write as Mark Twain).

Overall, there is much to commend in this book that makes it worthwhile for child readers. But they will want to read it - and should read it - because it truly is a cracking read that they can happily get lost in.

Tomorrow, Caroline Lawrence is guesting here at the Hearthfire to share something about her approach to writing, so be sure to come back and visit!

1 comment:

  1. There have been mixed reviews about this book on Amazon but you got me there when you said you'll read this one to your child in a heartbeat. Thanks for the helpful review. :-)

    Nancy | Simple Clockwork | www.nancycudis.com


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