Reviews /

Murder at the Museum

Authored by Alasdair Beckett-King
Illustrated by Claire Powell
Published by Walker Books Ltd

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Young girl, Bonnie Montgomery, turns (Superman style) into super sleuth and highly celebrated (by a couple of people in his family) Montgomery Bonbon in order to solve a gruesome murder in a local museum that she just happens to be visiting.

The story’s protagonist, Bonnie, and her Grampa, team up together again (even though this is their first book) to solve the possibly unsolvable crime (by the police at least) of the murder of Oliver Munday (museum security guard) and the disappearance of the museum’s prize artefact, the stone Widdlington Eagle.

This is a ‘classic’ locked room mystery with a small set of suspects (beautifully drawn at the front of the book), who Bonnie has to interrogate in a variety of ways (sometimes dressed as her alter-ego, ‘world famous’ detective Montgomery Bonbon) in order to find the truth. At her side always, is Grampa Banks, who does the ‘boring stuff’ such as researching suspects’ histories and timelines and stalking them. The perfect team!

The story, written by a professional comedian, has a very unashamedly tongue in cheek approach to detective fiction, which could be argued is great for the age range the book is aimed at: 9–11-year-olds. Full of wit, whimsicalness and wonder, this story twists and turns through the short list of suspects like a visitor to the museum itself. Bonnie’s out loud musings help her, and the reader, to piece together each clue on the path to finding the guilty one. The reader will be changing their mind as to ‘whodunit’ with every turn of the page!

Sometimes, Bonnie investigates as a girl and then she lacks confidence in herself, or perhaps she gains confidence when wearing a mask (moustache and beret), when talking to others. Is this what we want children to think: wear a mask to make you more confident? She does epitomise grim determination though by never giving up in her quest for the truth even though she is attacked, given negative reviews and finds talking to some people difficult. Grampa Banks is the only person who knows of her deep, dark secret. This could inevitably lead to danger, especially when Bonnie goes out at night to investigate. She does have her Grampa with her, but he falls asleep and she is a young girl out at night. The police, as often in detective stories, are represented as bumbling fools, and this doesn’t give children an accurate representation of the detectives in the real world.

I think this would make a good addition to a school library. The style of writing and the illustrations make it engaging and easy to read. It would be best for ages 9-11 due to some of the content – murder, poison and social dilemmas. As a classic detective story, it could be studied as a guided reading book with a view to looking at the key structure and success criteria of a murder mystery: maps, locked rooms, suspects, detective etc. Then this could be compared to other similar stories to use as a model for writing a detective story. But I feel it would be better as a reading for pleasure book in the school library as a gateway to other great murder mystery books.

Longlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2024