Category Archives: Detective stories

The Hats of Marvello – Amanda Graham. Illustrated by Lavanya Naidu.


Harper Collins Australia

March 2023

  • ISBN: 9781460761670
  • ISBN 10: 1460761677
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • RRP: $19.99

If I could only use one word for this book, it would be delightful! From start to finish (and I binge read it one sitting) it is charming, sweet and fun. Amanda Graham’s knack for creating endearing characters and plots remains true (who can ever forget Arthur?).

In dusty, ravaged Mt Dry, South Australia, Olive lives with her parents and grandpa on a wheat farm that has not been faring well. The poor returns mean that Olive’s dad is now a FIFO to the mines and she misses him, but there is always plenty to do for her to be occupied. Just now that would be her thriving veggie garden and the upcoming class play.

Olive’s class has been learning about biodiversity and the effects introduced species have had on Australia’s native flora and fauna. On her own farm, rabbits have become a real problem, though Olive would love to have a pet one of her own – and is horrified when her grandfather makes plans to destroy the warrens and poison the animals. As Olive rightly points out, the rabbits didn’t ask to be brought to Australia, it is hardly their fault, so I’m with her – no animal deserves the kind of suffering that has been inflicted on this introduced species.

On the other side of the world Wilby is practising his magic with an amazing Marvello top hat, one hundred white rabbits and one very unusual black rabbit named Robbit – who happens to be able to talk. When his ex-partner in their stage act turns up, steals the magic hat, locks Wilby in a cellar and plans to wow the world with the same act, a chain of events is set in motion that will not only cause ructions from one side of the world to another, but ultimately solve a mystery about the disappearance of the original Marvello.

Olive’s kindness and clear thinking, along with her friends, Stevie and Del – not to mention, the remarkable Robbit – not only thwart the villain, Reynard, and save Wilby, but also a hundred white rabbits, and hundreds more wild rabbits who were about to be exterminated in the dry fields of South Australia.

With themes of compassion, friendship, family, good and evil, generosity and greed and collaboration, this would make for a fantastic read-aloud for a class, as well as a thoroughly engaging read for individuals. Amanda’s writing is beautifully enhanced by the illustrations. I am not familiar with Lavanya’s work but anyone who can create such adorable pictures -especially those rabbits! – is already on my list of watchables. I can easily see this being a much-loved book for kiddos around Year 3 to Year 6. It would also easily segue into robust discussions on the rights and wrongs of eradication of feral animals and more humane ways of dealing with these.

Highly recommended for middle school readers – after all, what’s not to love when it comes to rabbits? *wink*

Friday Barnes 11: Last Chance – R. A. Spratt


Penguin Australia

  • Published: 31 January 2023
  • ISBN: 9780143779247
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

Oh Friday, you just get betterer and betterer! Readers will remember my anecdote of the dismay felt by my coterie of Friday fans, when the ‘last’ in the (original) series was announced, and was confirmed by my (then) recent conversation with Rachel over afternoon tea. Subsequently – and by then in a different school library – the kiddos went wild when they found out Friday’s adventures were off and running again. I now have some readers in university who still hang out for the latest update on Friday, her friends, her mishaps and successes – and of course, her love life!

Friday, Melly and Ian, along with Uncle Bernie and a few assorted newcomers to the quirky cast of characters, are once again embroiled in an art crime. As special consultants to Interpol, the teens are undercover as art students, as they try to establish the veracity of a supposedly genuine letter which reveals the famous Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre, is a highly successful fake – and has been displayed as the real thing for a hundred years. This is a cold case with a difference it seems – or is it?

The trio’s investigations not only have Spratt’s hallmark idiosyncratic humour stamped all over them but raise current topics such as digital theft and art ‘terrorism’. It’s another action-packed instalment from our favourite teen detective, with the added bonus of the slowly evolving romance between Friday and Ian to bring smiles to readers’ dials.

Releasing with perfect timing to kick off a new school year, you would be wise to get this one on your shelves ASAP because those Friday Fans will be clamouring for it. Highly recommended for your readers from mid-primary upwards. I know I can’t wait to see what happens next!! (and seriously, this has, at least, Netflix series written all over – does it not??)

Enola Holmes and the Elegant Escapade: Enola Holmes #8 – Nancy Springer


Allen & Unwin

August 2022

ISBN: 9781761066245

Publisher: A&U Children’s

Imprint: A & U Children

RRP: $16.99

As we all eagerly anticipate the new forthcoming Netflix adaptation, what better way to feed our love of Enola and her adventures than by reading this newest in the series? (In this house we are both fans of not only Enola but definitely Millie Bobby Brown!)

Nancy Springer’s series following the adventures of Sherlock Holme’s ferocious young sister has been a smash hit and created a huge following, mostly among girls from around Year 6 to Year 9. In this latest episode our favourite sleuth is determined to rescue her friend Lady Cecily Alastair, an unfortunate young woman who is being cruelly treated by her nasty and domineering father.

After the success of the initial ‘spring’ from her family home, Enola is relieved that she has secured Cecily’s safety but her relief is short-lived when Cecily disappears from the secret office Enola maintains. For many this would not be such a disaster but Cecily is hampered by her dual personalities – one left-handed, confident and resourceful and one right-handed which has been forced upon her and rendered her meek and helpless. With no money nor resources, no skills or friends to call upon – how can this young woman possibly survive the streets of London?

Of course, Enola’s adventures would not be complete without snarky intervention from older brother Sherlock (who always feels himself to be superior- wrong). The banter between the two is highly entertaining as always but Enola’s superior female intellect is more than a match for Sherlock’s rather more prosaic kind of intelligence.

This series hardly needs any ‘selling’ – suffice to say your kiddos from around Year 6 upwards will just gobble it up and just in time for the new Netflix adaptation!

Spark – M.G. Leonard


Walker Books

September 2022

Imprint:Walker Books


Australia RRP:$18.99

New Zealand RRP:$21.99

There is something quintessentially English about a group of children who are into bird-watching I think, especially when combined with all the other great things going on in this series. A diverse cast of characters, an appealing setting where the kids can roam in their own private forest at will, navigating the sometimes not clear-cut avenues of friendship, thrilling adventures and a mystery to solve, all combine to make this an irresistable read to middle school kiddos.

We know that mystery and crime stories for younger readers are booming at present but the point oif difference with the focus on children who care for nature and apply their knowledge in a positive way makes for a thoroughly charming twist.

When Jack comes across a badly hurt cat he suspects that the injury is deliberate – but who could be responsible for such a cruel act? He knows this is another opportunity for the Twitchers to do some investigating but there is soon even more to investigate when the expected arrival of one of the most rarely seen birds is threatened by a local wildlife poacher. The children rally their full force and put their minds to a well thought out plan that will, with any sort of luck, save both the local cats and the magnificent lammergeier.

This is a top notch adventure for readers from around Year 3ish upwards especially those that like their stories action-packed! It would be best read after the first so that your kiddos know the characters and backstory but this is not completely necessary.

Friday Barnes #10: Undercover – R. A. Spratt


Penguin Australia

February 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761043659
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $15.99

Some readers of this blog may recall my review of the ‘re-appearance’ of Friday and her cronies. My kiddos at school lost their minds when it hit the shelves so make sure you stand back again because the rush will be on. Now that Friday et al are all teens, the secondary kids are tremendously excited to get back into one of their favourite series from primary school. They still relish the clever plots, Friday’s quirkiness and the unravelling of mysteries but also to enjoy the growing romances and relationships. Naturally, where Friday is concerned, romance is never going to be a smooth ride. Naturally, since her stint in jail, Friday is even more emotionally fragile, something her best friend Melanie pinpoints very astutely.

Friday is most definitely not avoiding big decisions (like working with her Uncle Bernie and Ian, her nemesis/boyfriend, investigating crimes) and she’s certainly not avoiding Ian and their growing romance (using the word very loosely). She is in fact, helping out her best friend’s brother in his hour of great need. Mel’s brother, Binky, is now living in the land of his beloved Ingrid and, following the directive of Ingrid’s stern father the King, is serving out the required term in the Norwegian army. All of this is fine but when Binky ends up being charged with dereliction of duty, he calls upon Friday to help him prove his innocence. Of course she does. But there’s more to come in Norway (and beyond): Princess Ingrid’s upcoming 21st birthday (and the mysterious incidents which keep preventing her return to Oslo), continuing art thefts across Europe, the reasons behind Binky’s set up and the connection with the Global Seed Vault.

Like all the Friday books this is a joyous romp with plenty of snort laugh moments but the growing depth to the plot lines, character development and interactions offers more for the serious and thoughtful reader. I’ll have great pleasure talking this one up in my new library in the coming weeks.

Highly recommended for your readers from Upper Primary to Mid-Secondary in particular. Thanks R. A. Spratt for another great adventure with everyone’s favourite daggy detective.

Fabio the World’s Greatest Flamingo Detective: The Case of the Missing Hippo – Laura James




March 2018
ISBN: 9781408889312
Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP  : AU$12.99

Like many others I am addicted to great detective fiction be it books or TV shows and also like many others my favourite sleuth is the one and only Hercule Poirot (as in David Suchet not – you know who KB bleuggh). So you might well imagine how delighted I was to read this new book from the creator of Captain Pug and discover a flamingo version of HP!

Fabio politely tipped his hat. ‘Fabio, the world’s greatest flamingo detective at your service, Madam.’

He’s no hulking giant but a mere pink slip of a thing and very very clever. Really he just wants to sip his pink lemonade and listen to the jazz music at his favourite venue, the Hotal Royale. His constant companion Gerald the giraffe, a gentle soul but also a complete duffer accompanies him.

However, there is no peaceful interlude for Fabio as the nightclub launches its talent show, he is roped in to being one of the judges and the likely winner of the show, a brilliant jazz-singing hippo goes missing.

There are plenty of suspects including Fabio’s fellow judges – a slippery python car salesman and the bizarre knitting secretary bird, Enid, owner of the local ballet school among them.  The local Lake Laloozee Chief Inspector Duff is no match for Fabios’s superior intellect –‘it’s a matter of logic’ – and this crime unravels faster than Enid’s knitting in the calm flamingo’s capable hands – errr, wings.

This is really good fun and the fluoro pink and green combination used throughout the design and illustrations is fantastic.

Highly recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards who enjoy a spot of sleuthing and a lot of laughs.

Dotty Detective #1 Super Secret Agent – Clara Vulliamy



Harper Collins Australia

ISBN 9780008132491

ISBN 10: 0008132496

Imprint: HarperCollins – GB


List Price: 4.99 AUD

Girl detectives seem to be quite the popular trend of late and you will perhaps have some younger readers who want to get in on this but are not quite ready for some of the books on offer.

This new series will be just perfect for them as Dorothy Constance Mae Louise, known as Dot, is a younger girl as well. Written in diary style Dot gives the reader the low down on her situation. She’s just moved to a new house with her mum and little twins, Alf and Maisie, and of course is starting a new school. She’s pretty excited about all this but also a wee bit nervous. Not to worry, she makes two great new friends, Beans and Amy.  As it happens Beans is also a fan of TV super sleuth Fred Fantastic – Ace Detective.  Dot is very good at puzzles and codes and Beans is a good foil for her investigating as he is good at making gadgets.

When the teacher announces a school talent quest Amy, who is rather shy but a really good singer, is keen to perform but classmate Laura who thinks she is the superstar plans to sabotage her. Will Dot and Beans be able to help Amy overcome her nerves and thwart Laura’s sneaky plan?

This is a really cute story and already three more to come so a great little series to start off some independent readers. Girls will enjoy seeing Dot’s new bedroom become her own special place and also getting to know her family.

Lots to explore around friendship, adjusting to new situations and of course, codes, puzzles and mysteries!

Highly recommended for readers from around 7 upwards.

By the way, the author Clara Vulliamy is the daughter of Shirley Hughes!

Precious and Grace (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) – Alexander McCall-Smith




Imprint: Little Brown Group

ISBN13 9781408708118

RRP $32.99

From one of my favourite authors comes a new instalment in the quirky and endearing lives of the characters that revolve around The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  Last Saturday night I took myself to bed early and read this in one sitting and what a joy it is – as always.

There is something so refreshing to the spirit when we can join Precious in her beloved Botswana and walk among her friends and share her daily life as well as her cases.  When we visit the orphanage for tea and cake or watch the children with their simple activities or when we listen to the wisdom of Mr J. L. B. Matekoni we are immediately transported to a land of wide spaces and vast blue skies.

Precious begins this tale with some considerations of relationships and their nature – family, friends, not friends, late and not late – and reflects on their various differences. This thread of connections runs throughout the narrative.

Of course it’s not all daily routine life with Mma Ramotswe. She takes on a rather strange client in this episode. A woman who was raised in Botswana but then moved to the Canadian colony – about as different as possible to the African country she had loved as a little girl. She seeks out the help of Precious to locate people and places from this childhood but there is something quite strange about some of her reactions.

For those of us who have followed Precious’ journey throughout there is a huge amount of joy in the rise and rise of Grace, Mma Makutsi – erstwhile agency secretary but who somehow manages to elevate her position within the firm until she now ranks as co-director, much to Precious’ bafflement!

Indulge yourself with some vicarious visiting to a simpler life (though Botswana is certainly moving with the times to the regret of older characters). As one who is most definitely traditionally built I can assure you this will be a joyful time out from your everyday life.