Salt has been in my kindle for at least three years (on my list for four!). It’s not the first I’ve read by Helen Laycock, whose Mandrake’s Plot I featured at the end of 2018. Helen gets over the ‘absent parent’ problem for MG adventure stories by using a setting which is not so much historical as old-fashioned. Think Swallows and Amazons, or Famous Five.
A holiday at Pirates’ Cove with Great Aunt Win is nothing like Toby expects it to be…
He is baffled by the mysterious beach fires and eerie singing he witnesses during the night. He is fascinated, too, by the weird and wonderful tales of the town: not only the legend of the pitiful Mary-Anne, said to row out nightly to the Blue Rock, but also of the peculiar ‘cursed’ gold plate locked in the guesthouse cabinet.
Stranger still, why has a dead man been spotted in the town?
With the help of intriguing local girl, Hattie, the secrets of Salt Guesthouse are unravelled… but not before the children find themselves in grave danger. [goodreads]
Salt starts slowly, with Toby receiving an invitation from his Great-Aunt Winifred to go on holiday to the seaside with her. Do people still say ‘to the seaside’, even in England? I must check with my niece!
The journey conjures up memories of going on holiday in steam trains. We squabbled about window seats, and were grateful for a corridor train. Then§ you could wobble along the narrow passage to the loo and watch the sleepers rushing underneath the train. Sorry, got carried away there. But this is very much a book of reminiscences, and I wonder whether readers will get as much enjoyment from it as those of a certain age (over fifty)!
Right from the start, Toby gets to go out on his own to explore, since Aunt Win (“drop the formality, Toby, dear”) sprains her ankle on the first morning. It’s a life I’m familiar with, but I wonder what current 8 to 12 year olds make of it? I really do. Do you have a child in the right age group? Do they enjoy this type of adventure, or does it just seem unrealistic to them?
The adventure has a great plot, with plenty of mystery, tension, baddies and maybe-baddies all mixed up together. Helen Laycock has picked up the times perfectly. The genre of the 30s adventure (even though life went on like that well into the 50s ) seems firmly fixed in English literature.
Does it translate for the US reader? Miss Marple does, so maybe this is an enticement for young people to get into Agatha Christie as they grow up!
Altogether, a delightful adventure mystery in an old-fashioned setting, but it is none the worse for that. Boys of today will enjoy reading it and girls will enjoy the independent and clever friend he makes, too. Recommended.