Seventeen Coffins by Philip Caveney

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Seventeen Coffins by Philip Caveney

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A trip to the National Museum of Scotland sends Tom on another exciting (not to mention terrifying) trip to the past, this time in search of an answer to the mystery of the seventeen tiny coffins discovered on Arthur's Seat – if he can survive that long.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2014
Publisher: Fledgeling Press
External links: [ Author's website]
ISBN: 9781905916740

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Poor Tom! He's barely recovered from his time-slip journey to plague-ridden seventeenth century Edinburgh when he's off again, this time to the nineteenth century. Just like on his first journey he's lost and friendless, and in deadly peril – but somehow, he ends up once again employed to feed the pigs. It seems some things never change.

If anyone could find a way to bottle and sell Philip Caveney's imagination, they'd be a millionaire by next Tuesday at the latest. A machine that allows you to take part in your favourite films, the adventures of a not very successful jester and a buffalope with attitude (and wind), and now a series of time-slip adventures which lead the hero, Tom, and the reader, back and forth through time and even in and out of various alternative realities. How does he do it? Really, lesser mortals like us are unlikely to find an answer to that conundrum, so – just sit back and enjoy the ride!

This story, like Crow Boy, the first book in the series, is based to a large extent on real places, people and events. In 1836 a group of boys discovered seventeen coffins, each barely four inches long, concealed beneath stones on Arthur's Seat, the extinct volcano which towers over Edinburgh. The coffins contained tiny wooden figures, and there have been several theories proposed to explain them since. Witchcraft is a favourite one, not surprisingly, as is the idea that they were used by sailors to protect them from death, but one suggestion which is used to vivid effect here is that they were left there to commemorate seventeen famous murder victims. This story takes all the available data (for example, that they were carved by two different people and that each one is dressed differently) and weaves it into a fascinating and convincing tale. Not realising their possible significance the boys managed to destroy all but eight of the coffins, but they were rescued by a local schoolteacher and are now on display in the National Museum of Scotland. You can see them for yourself here if you're too far from Edinburgh to make the journey.

Tom has a pretty desperate struggle to stay alive in a world where poverty is widespread and the life of the poor and homeless has little value. Helpless, hungry and cold, he gets himself mixed up with some very shady characters, but things get even more complicated when a horrifying being from the first book returns. With more than one person out to kill him, Tom's life becomes a nightmare which will have the reader on the edge of his or her seat. It's a dark and scary tale, despite the playful interludes where Tom teaches his new friends some twentieth-century slang, and younger readers of a nervous disposition might want to avoid reading it late at night. Don't miss it, though: it's well-written, thrilling and thoroughly convincing!

You don't have to read Crow Boy, the first book in the series, to enjoy this one, but you'll enjoy it much more if you do: it is there that the sinister and vicious plague doctor first appears. And you may also want to try Night on Terror Island and Spy Another Day by the same author: still plenty of danger and excitement, but with an edge of humour to make them less scary. Oh, and don't forget The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon, another excellent book based on items from a museum.

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Buy Seventeen Coffins by Philip Caveney at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Seventeen Coffins by Philip Caveney at


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