Saxby Smart: Private Detective: The Secrets of the Skull by Simon Cheshire

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Saxby Smart: Private Detective: The Secrets of the Skull by Simon Cheshire

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Another very good collection of short stories where the reader is invited to assist in working out the clues to various mysteries.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 160 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Piccadilly
ISBN: 978-1848120556

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Saxby Smart solves mysteries brought to his office in the garden shed by friends and neighbours. So far so good, but nothing really new. What is so attractive about this series of stories is the fact that it is the reader who acts as Saxby's side-kick, playing the role of sounding-board for the young detective. Add to this exciting, complex plots and a protagonist who is warm and funny and you have a winning formula.

There are eight books so far in the series, and three case files in each book. This means the reader can complete a whole story fairly quickly, and a similar format in each book adds to the sense of ease and familiarity. Saxby starts each time by recounting how he is given a case, then he does a little preliminary investigation. About half a dozen times in each story he comes to a conclusion about a certain aspect of the case, but stops (marking this with three large question marks) and invites the reader to discover the clue for him/herself before explaining his own thinking. There are also A Page From My Notebook sections dotted through the book, where Saxby summarises the case so far and lays out possibilities for further investigation. All this means the reader approaches the text in a different way. He/she feels actively involved in the case, and will be led to go back in the story to check facts or statements. The stories lend themselves to group or class reading, because there are plenty of opportunities to discuss the clues and debate the issues. The short chapters and wise-cracking style will encourage even reluctant readers to spot clues before Saxby, employing both logic and observation in a thoroughly agreeable way.

This way of writing a detective story is in some ways counter-intuitive: Simon Cheshire allows the reader to solve the clues before the end, rather than following the traditional approach of diverting attention from the truth with red herrings. But this style of writing really does succeed: there are enough twists and turns in the plot to retain the reader's interest right up to the very last page, and the clues, while accessible, are never too obvious. Furthermore, the story is told at a cracking pace which encourages the reader to keep going and find out what happens next, and the strong element of participation means the reader feels as satisfied as the hero when, at the end of each story, Saxby writes the words case closed.

The three stories in Secret of the Skull are all pleasurably challenging. In the title story, Saxby is faced with a difficult moral issue as well as a case. His friend Peter Skulyevic asks him to find out why Great Aunt Mirna appears to be stealing credit cards. She had been arrested many years before by soldiers of the military dictatorship in her country, and must have suffered years of imprisonment for her beliefs. Peter wants to solve the mystery but because of the terrible suffering she has already been through, asks Saxby not to tell the police if Mirna is guilty. This, of course, puts the boy detective in a very difficult position, and he has to use all of his considerable talents to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the case.

The second story, Diamonds are for Heather finds him commissioned by an anonymous client to stop a jewel thief from handing over the goods to another criminal. And to do this, poor Saxby has to endure the horror of participating in a girlie sleep-over party at a hotel, with predictably hilarious consequences. The third story is a result of Saxby's office being in a shed: he catches a serious cold and cannot leave his room, so he has to solve the mystery of a stolen book by using various friends and allies, and his own considerable brain power.

One further point: Saxby Smart has his own excellent website which provides further cases to solve. It is not yet complete, but promises advice on sleuthing and writing for budding young detectives.

I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: Another great young detective will be found in Half Moon Investigations by Eoin Colfer.

Buy Saxby Smart: Private Detective: The Secrets of the Skull by Simon Cheshire at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Saxby Smart: Private Detective: The Secrets of the Skull by Simon Cheshire at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Saxby Smart: Private Detective: The Secrets of the Skull by Simon Cheshire at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Saxby Smart: Private Detective: The Secrets of the Skull by Simon Cheshire at Amazon.com.


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