One of the reasons I so enjoyed Lauren St John’s first Laura Marlin mystery “Dead Man’s Cove” was because of its Cornish coastal setting which gave it a nostalgic glow of childhood holidays and the type of mystery novels we used to read when young, even whilst it was dealing with modern crime and modern characters. Readers obviously agreed with this as it was awarded the Blue Peter Book Of The Year Award and the Favourite Story Award in 2011. So it was a brave move on the part of the author to take Laura out of this setting and locate the second novel of the series in the Caribbean, leading to the climax on the volcanic island of Montserrat.
When I picked this book up I wasn’t sure how St John with her newly established cast of extremely likeable characters would engineer Laura’s relocation but it is done through a raffle prize which sees Laura, her uncle, her friend Tariq and Skye the three-legged husky on board the Ocean Empress heading for a holiday of a lifetime. It’s not long before things start going wrong and once again it’ s a serious modern crime at the centre. The Montserrat location gives St. John a chance to give the reader a bit of volcanic explanation, making this book a good literary choice to run alongside a school project on volcanoes. Also, the whole issue of marine conservation comes up through Uncle Calvin’s work and the author provides information about the scarcity and ill-treatment of some species which I was not aware of. Maybe my head has been stuck in the (Caribbean?) sand but I did not realise how bad things have got for tuna fish and Lauren St. John in her Facts section at the back recommends a boycott, nor did I know that some rock salmon bought in UK fish and chip shops is actually endangered shark. I know that some people are wary of stark messages to children dressed up in fiction but there’s no doubt that were I an intelligent 11 year old lapping up this tale that I would have taken the author’s advice, so if you are a fish eating family you might wish to be prepared for this beforehand. If, however, you want to spread the word this novel will do that and St. John promotes the Born Free Foundation and Kid’s Club.
For me, this novel is slightly more cartoony than its predecessor and although I enjoyed it very much for me “Dead Man’s Cove” was a stronger, more rounded work. There are important issues raised here which enhance rather than get in the way of the story. I can see from the next title in the series (“Kentucky Thriller”) that a return to St. Ives is not imminent and I hope St. John manages this balance between education and entertainment.
“Kidnap In The Caribbean” was published by Orion in 2011
I have mentioned on this blog that I volunteer at my local library and this time last year we were given some money by a local charity to buy some children’s books. We sat down and went through what was available. I had heard about this series by Lauren St John, hadn’t read any of them but knew they had been critically well received and that this book had won the Blue Peter Book Of The Year 2011. The thing that had stuck in my mind was that it was Enid Blytonesque in that it was about a mystery solving child along the lines of the Secret Seven/Famous Five novels. As Enid Blyton books still go out of the library and requests for them still come in I thought a set of the Lauren St John Laura Marlin mysteries would be a good bet. One year on I was looking through the children’s bookshelves and was reminded that I had not read this. I took it off the shelves and discovered, to my dismay, that the book had not been out once since we bought it. I checked it out just so it could have its first date stamp.
Why this book hasn’t gone out is a real mystery and when I return it I think we will need to make a feature of these books as I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Laura Marlin, a fan of detective stories, is rescued from her children’s home when a not previously known-about uncle is discovered living in St Ives and keen for Laura to live with him. St John has given the book a really good sense of location. Reading it made me feel nostalgic for the Cornish holidays I had when I was a child, almost envious of Laura of going to St Ives to live. The uncle, Calvin Redfern, is a recent arrival in St Ives himself and turned up in mysterious circumstances. For the first half of this book I had no real idea as to where it was going plot-wise, St John does a very good job at keeping us guessing and once the plot strands begin to come together it makes for a very satisfying read. Laura is a very appealing heroine and although there are faint echoes of Blyton it all feels very contemporary and without giving the plot-lines away deals with contemporary issues and crime.
For me this seems to be an ideal children’s book. A spooky-sounding title, good front cover, recommendation from Blue Peter, a good lead character and a well-told story so why the children of the Isle Of Wight are shunning it I really don’t know. Hopefully it is because they all have copies at home. It does appeal most to the age group we see the least in the library – the post picture books and easy readers but pre- teenage reader. It was because we thought there might be a shortage in the confident young readers books that we chose this series. I do acknowledge that it’s not immediately exciting and has quite a slow build but there is much pleasure to be had with Laura exploring her new surroundings before the real elements of mystery kick in. I’m very pleased to have this series on our shelves. We’ll just have to start pushing them……….
Dead Man’s Cove was published in 2010 by Orion