Fans of AM Howell will be delighted to dig into her latest middle-grade mystery and uncover her twistiest story yet. It is 1948 and, in the aftermath of WWII, it seems the whole country is caught in the transition between old and new. And this is exactly where we find 12-year-old protagonist Ruth Goodspeed.
Unlike many other buildings in post-war London, Ruth’s home has survived the Blitz, but with her parents’ marriage another casualty of the war, it looks like it won’t survive the practicalities of their divorce, unless her mother, a budding archaeologist, turns her volunteering work at the British Museum into a paying job.
Unwilling to lose her home and the mural of happy memories her artist father painted onto her bedroom wall, Ruth soon cooks up a plan that catapults us from the rubble-strewn streets of London to the bleak and misty farmlands of the Fens, where another child, Joe, is also on the brink of losing his home.As these two very different children and settings come together, we see Howell’s skill at harnessing the themes and threads of the story so that they all pull towards the same high-stakes climax, where the fates of both children rest upon uncovering the secrets and artefacts buried on Rook Farm.
While Ruth is extra-careful when it comes to using a trowel and mapping out a dig, she is far less cautious when it comes to jumping to conclusions, especially when everyone around her seems to be hiding some secret or other. But these flaws and missteps are what make Ruth a relatable and believable character, and we cannot help but cheer her on as she races against time, and a potentially devastating storm, to uncover buried treasure, and even deeper buried secrets.
The delicately drawn historical details, so characteristic of this author, provide valuable snippets into how war affected the lives and families of that time. Snippets into the changes and innovations taking place in London, such as the beginnings of the NHS and prefab housing, and the introduction of technology and machinery into rural settings, lend further support to the theme of change, and how to some it can pose a threat, and to others an opportunity. But, thanks to Ruth’s resourcefulness and determination, she will emerge from her thrilling adventure with a cast of new friends, and a whole new perspective on change.
Rachel Corcoran’s cover art beautifully captures this exciting escapade with its explosions of birdlife and its wintry windswept backdrop.