Scarper Jack and the Bloodstained Room by Christopher Russell

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Scarper Jack and the Bloodstained Room by Christopher Russell

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A young lad finds himself wrapped up in a murder when he overhears people plotting the crime. With new friends he is engaged in an investigation full of rich historical and thriller-genre veracity, which makes for a great youth read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Puffin Books
ISBN: 978-0141322582

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At the last gasp of sweeps sending boys – boys like our hero Jack – up the chimneys of London, he hears a murder commission being plotted. With the defence of the unknown victim in mind, he tries his best to go it alone and do his heroic duty, all for things to fall against his best intentions. First, his approach to the crime-scene-to-be results in him getting clonked on the head and knocked out; second his errant father, freshly returning to his life after years of penury and slave labour, gets him tanked up at a local hostelry, in order to celebrate Jack's twelfth birthday; and then he winds up sick over himself in jail.

Still, at least he still has his wits about him to help get the crime solved over the next few days – even with a whiz new Assistant Commissioner and his new-fangled finger-print science leading the official investigation. Jack is helped in this by two new friends, and it is quite charming to think on how subtly and realistically the pair (a grimy street girl, and the posh boy next door to the alleged murderer) are introduced into the story – and how pleasant yet acceptably complex their relationships are as they chop and change as they feel jealous for being left out of investigations, and so on. Gone is the usual OTT bickering afforded diverging characters such as these.

Also of great benefit to the book is the historical setting – while the time is never pinned down to any particular year, the whole base of the plot is firmly constructed. The victim, a pioneer in large-scale railway investments, is just one of many realistic themes of the time that provide for a distinctive read. The style of policing, the social manners of the age, the new wonder in the balancing skills of those using scaffolding to build the technological revolution, all are brought into the plot in gentle, subtle ways that make us feel safe in the writer's hands.

Christopher Russell could also have hung himself by trying to construct the locked-box puzzle at the centre of this thriller, but does not. He might be slightly hampered by a smallish cast (one in tune with the brisk reading-time, but not providing a great mystery as to who might have dunnit), but the mystery of how the killer left the scene with no realistic way out (or even at first glance in) is well told, and the way the investigation – by both the children and the crushers, as the police are regularly called – is carried out is also very realistic.

On the whole the book is a great success for the 9+ age range – nor is there any flaw in the thriller to stop adults from having a peak between the slightly old-fashioned covers for a couple of hours of escapist fiction. We at the Bookbag strongly recommend this pre-teen historical mystery, and if the ending does suggest further adventures for Scarper Jack and his friends, then we hope to join them, and soon.

We would like to thank Puffin for sending a copy for us to read.

Buy Scarper Jack and the Bloodstained Room by Christopher Russell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Scarper Jack and the Bloodstained Room by Christopher Russell at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Scarper Jack and the Bloodstained Room by Christopher Russell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Scarper Jack and the Bloodstained Room by Christopher Russell at Amazon.com.


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