Kidnap on the California Comet

Authored by M. G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman
Illustrated by Elisa Paganelli
Published by Pan Macmillan

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Hal’s life has lost some sparkle after solving crime on the Highland Falcon train last summer. Uncle Nat’s offer of a journey on the California Comet could not have come sooner; three days of stunning scenery across America is just what the 11 year old needs. But mystery never appears to be far away from the young detective… After meeting the billionaire entrepreneur Augustus Reza and his daughter Marianne onboard the train, Hal notices that his fellow passengers are behaving rather shiftily. When Marianne is suddenly kidnapped, it appears that no one can be trusted. With the train teeming with potential suspects, it is up to Hal and new friends Hadley and Mason to find Marianne’s kidnapper, before it is too late.

Kidnap on the California Comet is a perfectly executed and punchy crime story which keeps you guessing until the gripping conclusion. With the journey from Chicago to San Francisco taking place over matter of days, it is quite something to see this meticulous plot unfurl with such ease and precision. Leonard and Sedgman are masterful storytellers, maintaining constant tension as the end of the train journey draws ever nearer. Hot on the tail of this carefully crafted mystery is a determined and gutsy protagonist, whose exploits make this story a real page turner. Hal is a starkly observant child, with an eye for clues which he captures by making sketches at the scene. Despite so much to offer the police assigned to Marianne’s case, he is grossly underestimated and ignored. His persistence and drive to find his friend invites all readers to consider how easily children can be overlooked by adults. Accompanied by Hadley and Mason, both equally as bold as Hal but with a good sense of humour, we have quite the enjoyable trio to follow as they investigate the unscrupulous characters.

Leonard and Sedgman have written a suspenseful and absorbing mystery story that will certainly be a heavily requested read for children in Year Four to Year Six. Hal’s adventure can stand alone without having already read the first story in the series, but I am sure that children will be eager to get their hands on the earlier book too. With a rich sense of place and carefully researched history of the railway network in America, I can imagine that Hal’s adventure may inspire a love of trains and travel within many readers. Adding to this, Paganelli’s illustrations are a delight and offer another layer to the narrative; I often found myself checking back to earlier illustrations for clues as the investigation progressed. Kidnap on the California Comet leaves the reader itching to solve the mystery themselves and ready for the next installment of the Adventures on Trains series.