Book review of ‘The Secret Detectives’ by Ella Risbridger

Isobel Petty is a recent orphan who finds herself on a mail ship from India, where she has lived most of her life. This young protagonist, based on the character of Mary Lennox in ‘The Secret Garden’ is going to live with her uncle in a big house in Yorkshire. Being a minor, Isobel is accompanied by Mrs Colonel Harrington-Davis, and her two children. She hates them. In fact, Isobel dislikes quite a lot of people, and is rather baffled by the Harrington-Davis’ way of life, their hobbies and cleanliness. Lettie, the eldest child, is prim, well-groomed and adults love her. Conversely, Isobel is scruffy, blunt and independent. I fear that she’s perhaps going to be a bit of a marmite character – she struggles with empathy and accepting people for who they are, but I liked her quirkiness.

One night, Isobel witnesses a terrible crime – someone is pushed overboard. And she’s not the only one there – another child, Sameer Khan, was also on deck that night to see the fatal plunge. The two team up, and are joined by Lettie, forming the detective agency of ‘Petty, Lettie and Khan’. The relationships between the three are interesting – whilst Lettie and Khan seem to accept Isobel for exactly who she is, she is hypercritical of her female companion, and never quite sees things from Sam’s point of view either. I appreciated that issues of colonial racism were not avoided, although I do believe that maybe they could have been tackled even more firmly. There is a much stronger sense of injustice that the adults in charge ignore the three children, and younger readers will probably enjoy this antiauthoritarian storyline drawing the trio closer together.

I was interested to read that Ella Risbridger had originally planned to set her middle-grade detective novel on board a much bigger liner. In choosing a mail ship, she has effectively created a ‘locked room’ situation that is reminiscent of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. It gives the reader a good chance at cracking the solution to ‘whodunnit’ before the end of the novel – I’ll admit that I didn’t though, and I think that the average 10-year-old may find the ‘solution’ a little bit complex.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read which will sit well with fans of the ‘Murder most Unladylike’ novels and ‘Enola Holmes’.

Thank you to Ella Risbridger, Nosy Crow and Netgalley for an ARC of this book in return for my honest review.

Book cover of The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbridger
You can purchase ‘The Secret Detectives’ on Amazon here (and if you do, I’ll gain a little commission at no extra charge to yourself!)

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