Dead Man’s Cove by Lauren St John.
Lauren St John is the author is a series of books for older children set in Africa. The White Giraffe and its sequels are heartwarming and well-loved, although I admit we’ve not read any of them (sadly, my daughter is not a fan of what she considers ‘animal tales’). However her latest book, the first of a new series, sounded attractive: – it features an orphan, Laura Marlin, who goes to live with her uncle in Cornwall and becomes a detective like the hero of her favourite books.
Laura, like Jacqueline Wilson’s Tracey Beaker, lives in a children’s home. She is delighted to find out she has an uncle who lives in St Ives who wants her to come and live with him – she knows nothing about him at all, but he seems genuinely interested in her and happy to have her there once she’s moved. The only problem is that she hardly sees anything of him – his work keeps him very busy and he’s often out in the small hours, Laura has no idea what he actually does. She spends more time with Mrs Webb the slightly strange housekeeper who is usually on hand to cook her dinner. However Uncle Calvin does encourage Laura to be independent and to explore St Ives – he just cautions her – don’t take the path to Dead Man’s Cove.
Laura soon gets to know the town, it’s hills and beaches and then one day she finds a message in a bottle on her path to school – ‘Can I trust you?’ it asks. Laura is intrigued and thus a mystery begins to find out who is wrote the message. She makes a friend, Tariq, the ‘son’ of the Mukhtars who run the North Star Grocery. He can’t speak English yet and Laura is sure there’s a story to him as well. Then there is Skye, the three-legged Husky dog who needs a new home – needless to say, Laura falls for him and he makes a wonderful animal companion for her on her subsequent adventures.
Although the plot of this mystery is totally up to date and there is real peril for Laura, there’s a real charm to this story that reminded me of the spiffing adventures of the Famous Five, Laura being a definite ‘George’ type. The setting in St Ives is spot on – and having been there recently, I could remember the gorgeous Porthmeor beach amongst places mentioned – I don’t know if Dead Man’s Cove is real or not though. The Cornish history of smugglers, hidden coves and wreckers adds that slight hint of romance and makes it a definite adventure rather than ordeal, until the heroics are needed at the end. Laura is a great character, and her Uncle Calvin is rather exciting being so mysterious.
I know more Laura Marlin mysteries are in the pipeline, and I hope they’re as fun as this one was to read. I’d thoroughly recommend it for 9-11 year olds, and my daughter is interested in this one now I’ve auditioned it for her!
Orion Books, hardcover, 201pp. £9.99 I bought this book.