The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

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The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow by Katherine Woodfine

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Tanja Jennings
Reviewed by Tanja Jennings
Summary: An enchanting, marvellous, beautifully observed Edwardian mystery with a stellar cast of characters and heart-in-the-mouth moments of high adventure. Julia Sarda's charming and exquisite illustrations at the head of each part add to its period detail and tie in with the female protagonist's role as a salesgirl in the Millinery Department of Sinclair's. Unputdownable. I loved it and cannot wait for the sequel in 2016 when Lil and Sophie return in "The Mystery of The Jewelled Moth." Katherine Woodfine is an author to watch.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Egmont Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781405276177

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Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2016

Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2016: Younger Fiction

This entrancing Edwardian mystery is set in the exotic, sensuous and opulent world of a Department store which draws the reader in with enticing sights, sounds and smells from the start. When the heroine Sophie first steps on to the shop floor she feels like she is "stepping inside a chocolate box". Furthermore there is also something sacred about the experience - "Now, a reverent hush hung in the air, and she found herself almost tiptoeing…gazing around her at the immense chandeliers, the glittering looking-glasses, the glossy walnut panelling. It smelled luscious: no sawdust now, but a glorious fragrance of cocoa and candied violets and some other spicy scent, like the cigars that Papa used to smoke after dinner."

Writing of this calibre not only evokes Sophie's childhood memories but makes the reader long to experience the luxuriousness of somewhere like Sinclair's, an opportunity somewhat lost in the modern reality of recession and online shopping. Woodfine's portrait of a decadent, sumptuous retail emporium, at the heart of Piccadilly, is based on established names like Harrods, Fortnum & Masons and Liberty (although these were not founded in the Edwardian era) so she has primarily drawn inspiration from the story of Harry Gordon Selfridge, the flashy, charismatic American entrepreneur who launched his cathedral to elegance in London in 1909. There are also shades of Emile Zola's Au Bonheur des Dames, televised as The Paradise.

Inspired by a multitude of sources including classic children's literature from the minds of E. Nesbit and F.H. Burnett, the detective fiction of Agatha Christie and Carolyn Keene, the Victorian mystery world of Wilkie Collins, the old fashioned adventure stories of Enid Blyton and Malcolm Saville's 1940's/1950's Lone Pine series where gangs of children investigate spies and criminals, Woodfine has performed alchemy. Her charming period setting is fuelled by a nail-biting, heroic adventure crossed with an enthralling classic detective mystery element which grips the reader's attention. Chicanery, robbery, subterfuge, espionage, secret codes and The Boy's Own Paper style antics abound. There's even a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time scenario and Enid Blyton's locked room trick. Intertextuality is also evident in Billy's mention of secret codes in Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Dancing Men and Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I also revelled in the description of Sinclair's Book Department - a haven of tranquillity - It had thick oriental rugs on the floor, dark wooden panelling on the walls, plenty of comfortable armchairs, and most importantly, books everywhere. All these ingredients may sound like a mad medley but it works wonderfully. It is a book which makes you delight in the magic of reading.

Engaging, rounded characters keep the story flying along. There is a shadowy villain, courageous heroines, plucky boys and duplicitous adults. Sophie Taylor is a resourceful, sparky orphan bullied by the other shop girls but determined to stop a dastardly criminal plot. Her best friend Lil is a vivacious, beautiful, chic chorus girl and model (who loves the theatre and longs to be an actress) turned investigator and code cracker. Sinclair's delivery boy Billy, whose head is never out of the pages of Boys of Empire (probably based on The Boy's Own Paper, first published in 1879), dreams of emulating his favourite detective Montgomery Baxter. He is clever and kind and comes into contact with Joe, a desperate, scared, broken fugitive on the run from a ruthless, cut throat East End gang, run by a mysterious man known as The Baron. Joe longs to be free from fear and is trying to regain his true moral compass. Mr Sinclair, feted as 'The Captain', is only interested in things of beauty describing his store as a monument to style - a museum while Cooper and Billy's Uncle Sid are there to enforce his law of perfection.

In addition Julia Sarda's lighted Rear Window style front cover invites the reader into a glamorous world of trickery while her interior illustrations, showcase hats for the discerning lady for every occasion and focus on important clues, bringing a sense of glamour to the story while keeping the reader absorbed in Woodfine's fast paced plot. Fantastic set pieces include a deadly conversation in the West End, a terrifying abduction, a breathless chase across a rooftop terrace, peril at gunpoint and a desperate race through bemused party goers. Woodfine also spins some clever plot twists which keep the reader guessing. With elements of suspense and surprise, terror and action, she delivers something for everyone.

What is the secret behind the theft of the intricately crafted, jewel-encrusted Clockwork Sparrow? Who can our band of dynamic characters trust? What part does Bert Jones have to play in the mystery? Who is Edith? What is the real identity of 'The Baron'? What will happen at midnight? Immerse yourself in this fantabulous story of enterprising sleuths and enjoy a book which deservedly won Waterstones Children's Book of the Month in June 2015.

If you have a taste for Edwardian peril try Edwardian Murder: Ightham & the Morpeth Train Robbery by Diane Janes or for period detail step aboard the fated, luxurious ocean liner in Titanic: An Edwardian Girl's Diary 1912 by Ellen Emerson White. For more clockwork invention travel to Paris and experience a boy's discovery of his father's legacy in the fantastically illustrated The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick or be chilled by clockwork monsters in the creepy Malice by Chris Wooding. If you would prefer a dramatic adventure involving clockwork toys jump into The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon or for a story about humans, machines, grief and a strange clockwork bird open The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey. Alternatively you can go for a taste of nostalgia and revisit Five on a Treasure Island - Famous Five by Enid Blyton.

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