Author: Caroline Lawrence
Source: kindly sent for review by the publisher
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?
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!