How Ali Ferguson Saved Houdini by Elen Caldecott

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How Ali Ferguson Saved Houdini by Elen Caldecott

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: A warm and funny adventure story about three new friends trying to solve a mystery.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: July 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-1408805749

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Elen Caldecott has done it again! Hard to believe she's managed another book as amusing and insightful as How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant, but here it is! Ali Ferguson has just moved into a new flat with his mum. He loves her very much, but he also misses his dad, who left them two years before. He desperately hopes his dad will come back to them one day from his travels in Asia: his mum is sure that will never happen. But Ali is a cheerful boy with a positive outlook on life, and he sees moving to their new home as an adventure. And it isn't long before he finds himself in a real-life mystery, every bit as engrossing and dangerous as the ones he loves to imagine.

Ali quickly makes two new friends: Caitlin, who scowls more often than she smiles, and Gez who never stops talking. Together they uncover and start to investigate a series of odd events. A woman has gone missing. Dave, the father of Ali's new friend Caitlin, gets beaten up but won't discuss it. Strange men are smuggling odd-shaped parcels from the river bank to a white van in the middle of the night. Are these three things connected? And then things get more and more complicated: Ali and Gez find clues which point to Caitlin's dad as the villain. It's not too big a stretch of the imagination – even his own daughter admits he looks dodgy. After all, the shaved head, the tattoo and the gold tooth do tend to make him look like a crook. How can Ali and Gez find out the truth without hurting Caitlin's feelings by sharing their suspicions?

There is a point not long before the end of the story, when you may think you've solved the mystery. But don't be too sure! This author is very good at lulling you into a false sense of your own brilliance, and right to the end there are twists and turns to the plot. And although the book will entertain boys just as much as girls, there is a moment, right at the end, when you might need just a tiny corner of a tissue to dab your eye! It's not soppy, but it is moving.

Elen Caldecott's books are fast-paced stories, which are easy to read but which nonetheless manage to cover a variety of difficult issues. Ali is part-Indian. He and his mum have had to share a home for two years with his grandparents, who speak Gujarati, a language Ali barely understands. He has to cope with a father who sends chatty postcards from mountain tops and exotic beaches, but who never shows any sign of regret or affection for the family he abandoned. And Ali believes he is to blame for his dad's departure: the responsibility and expense of a baby must have proved too much for him. Caitlin, too, has family worries: her mother had died, and now her father seems to be mixed up in matters he will not talk about, but which are clearly dangerous. But however much Elen Caldecott's books are grounded in realism, in a life which the majority of her readers will recognise, there is a large sprinkling of excitement and sheer fun too, to balance any seriousness. They are a good read, with characters young readers will find it easy to identify with, and enough thrills and setbacks to keep the pages turning. Well worth reading!

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for sending us this excellent book.

Further reading suggestion: If you enjoyed this, and like endearing characters doing slightly madcap things, then you simply must read How Kirsty Jenkins Stole the Elephant by the same author. You'll love it!

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