Demelza and the Spectre Detectors is a pacy, entertaining mystery that is beautifully, beautifully written. Demelza is a geeky, sharp-witted girl who likes science and inventing things – a lot. Just in case the reader needs convincing: ‘This time last week, the most impressive thing she’d seen was the collection of antique safety goggles displayed at the Museum of Science in London, but this paled in comparison to the otherwordly wonders she was witnessing.’
She lives with Grandmother Maeve, who is equally quirky: ‘“Right, off to the Land of Nod with you, young lady. You want a story to help you drift off? How about the one where I wrestle the three-legged sloth in Patagonia?” She clawed her wrinkled hands as if grappling with an imaginary creature in front of her’ Their relationship is close: “Love you more than teapots’ “Love you more than circuit boards’’ answered Demelza’ but they keep secrets from each other. Gradually the keeping of these secrets and the not believing each other when confessions are made leads to all sorts of trouble.
This debut from Holly Rivers is the first in a modern mystery series so perfect for Upper Key Stage Two readers of mystery. It is rich in vocabulary ‘the strange susurration came again’ and packed full of humour. Demelza’s banter and cutting comments with Lord Balthazar, a bad-tempered and snooty talking skull, are a case in point. The readers will enjoy being spooked by some of the truly scary encounters in the story but they can also inhale the scrumptious descriptions of sweets and food: ‘The window was all ready for Halloween – decorated with delicate sugar cobwebs which veiled a display of jelly eyeballs, liquorice rats and some white chocolate skulls that looked frighteningly real.’
It is a perfect story to place in the hands of fans of mystery and I was reminded of the wonderful gothic fantasy, Mel Foster and the Demon Butler by Julia Golding which is also action-packed, witty and full of twists and turns. I would recommend having a copy or two in every primary library and it would also work well as a Key Stage Two read aloud to encourage those children who might not usually pick up mystery, fantasy or a book with a female lead. They will be won over with the language and the humour – I promise.
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