A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters (Macmillan, 1977); audiobook read by Johanna Ward (Blackstone, 1996) More notable for its elegant prose and depiction of the Welsh people (High Middle Ages) than its rather slight mystery. Brother Cadfael is immensely likeable but doesn’t so much investigate matters as discern the ineffable truth and nudge events along. Audiobook recommended. …
The Incredible Kidnapping by Willis Hall; ill. Quentin Blake (William Heinemann, 1975) A middle-grade comedy of incompetence, given to much running about and characters conversing in blissfully ignorant, wilful suspension of disbelief. The story is based on Hall’s play Kidnapped at Christmas and is easy to imagine playing out in that context. Gently amusing.
Star Quest: Roboworld by Terrance Dicks (W. H. Allen, 1979) Dicks once again borrowed heavily from 1970s Doctor Who in scripting this middle-grade adventure of human outcasts, robot sentience, deranged scientists and plucky rebellion. This second book in the trilogy is more assured than the first, though never reaching any great heights.
The Sarah Jane Adventures, Series 2 (CBBH, 2008) With the arrival of Anjli Mohindra as Rani, the Sarah Jane Adventures survives its first major cast change and goes from strength to strength as a Doctor Who surrogate. By series two the programme has gained sufficient confidence to utilise recurring adversaries.
Encyclopaedia Brown Tracks Them Down by Donald J. Sobol; ill. Leonard Shortall (Thomas Nelson, 1971) By this, the eighth book in the series, Sobol was clearly phoning it in. There are ten so-called mysteries to solve and none of them worth the investment, being in some combination muddled in the setup, purely for edification or monumentally facile.
The Brisbane Line by Hugh MacMaster (Rockhampton, 2000); audiobook read by Graham Webster (QNS Audio, 2002 A locally produced account of Australia’s controversial Second World War defence strategy and the historical circumstances from which it arose. MacMaster succeeds admirably in detailing Australia’s war efforts and providing the global context of military mismanagement, clandestine manoeuvring and self-interested political short-sightedness.
Exiles of ColSec by Douglas Hill (Victor Gollancz, 1984) At bit clumsy at the outset and rushed in its conclusion, but otherwise an exciting piece of middle-grade SF. Hill moves from a plausible near-future dystopia into a story of castaway survival on a new planet. Distinctive characters, decent representation, accomplished world-building.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Mystery of the Missing Wallets by Kirsten Mayer (Random House, 2011) This early reader picture book is by no means terrible, yet the text and story are not as simple as one might expect and the pictures (still shots from the film) cannot hope to match Hergé’s art for character, colour and energy.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Series 3 (ABC, 2015) A fitting conclusion to the trilogy of series. The character arcs run their course without falling into a maddening cycle of fulfilment and denial. The mysteries remain cosy and the Melbourne setting retains its charm. A rare instance of quitting while ahead.
The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James by Ashley Herring Blake (Little, Brown & Company, 2019) Not quite at the same level as Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World—the conflicts are a little more forced, the resolutions more predictable—but still a highly engaging middle-grade exploration of family, friendship, first love and identity. Serious yet gently uplifting.