A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Several months ago I put out a call for book recommendations. More specifically, I was interested in books written by authors living in either Devon, Cornwall or Somerset, or books set in these places. My fellow Bookfox, Hilary, mentioned Tanya Landman as an author based in North Devon and I eagerly rushed off to my favourite online retailer to purchase Tanya Landman’s Mondays Are Murder (along with about eight other books, of course). A huge parcel of books arrived the next day and I had my customary read of the first two pages of each of them and quickly decided that Mondays Are Murder would be where I started, on the grounds that it was shortest and looked as if it would prove the most exciting.
Eleven-year-old Poppy Fields is packed off for a week’s activity holiday on a remote Scottish island. Poppy isn’t particularly thrilled to be spending part of her school break in this way, but the offer of a free place for Poppy on the activity course proves too tempting for Poppy’s mother to refuse. Poppy is promptly picked up in a minibus by a shady character called Bruce Dundee, who bears terrible scars to his face. There are other children in the minibus who seem similarly reluctant to embark on a great outdoors adventure but Poppy only bonds with one of them, a fabulously nerdy soul called Graham who complains at every opportunity and enjoys quoting the death statistics for every planned activity. Unfortunately, Graham’s suspicion that outdoor pursuits are incredibly dangerous, and sometimes deadly, turns out to be true. Deadly, not for the children themselves, but for the instructors who run the activity centre. One by one these adults are picked off in mysterious ‘accidents’. Cut off from the mainland by poor weather conditions, the children are stuck on a bleak island with the adults dying around them. Which sounds, at least to me, like a delightfully exciting premise for a children’s book. Sadly, the whole thing felt just a bit too comfortable and cosy to constitute truly edge-of-your-seat reading. One instructor dies during one activity, then another instructor dies the next day in another activity and so on, and this led to an inevitability that might have been scarily exciting but which here felt a bit plodding and predictable. Perhaps this was because Poppy herself didn’t have much emotionally invested in the welfare of the victims, or because for most of the book she didn’t seem personally threatened by any of the dastardly goings-on of the island. The writing is fast-paced but I think it suffers from being too fast-paced. Events aren’t particularly fleshed out, which meant that for this reader at least, the book didn’t come to life. That strange but vital quality of a book ‘ringing true’ was absent for me here, and I just couldn’t quite believe or ‘get into’ the storyline. Which was a shame, especially as the book’s plot has such potential.
The writing felt a little rushed and the peripheral characters were so under-written as to be almost invisible. Apart from Poppy, Graham and Bruce, I couldn’t really get a sense of anyone. In terms of pace, there weren’t enough pauses for any emotional fallout to develop and Poppy herself often seemed untouched by the dramatic events occurring around her. What I wanted to feel was some emotional repercussions from so much death. Also, in order to fully engage with the storyline, I needed Poppy to be more at the centre of things, for her actions to contribute to the plot in some way, rather than her just being an (albeit ‘alarmed’) observer.
Perhaps this was just the wrong book for me. It is very likely that I am too old and too jaded to appreciate the light touch of this writing and I am sure that there are readers out there who would enjoy this novel. For me, however, it was ultimately a disappointing read as the storytelling was too skinny for my palate – it would appear I prefer my children’s fiction to be richer, denser concoctions. Moreover, I couldn’t overcome my irritation that Mondays Are Murder could and should have been so much better.
To end on a note of positivity, I did enjoy the twist at the end of the book and the ‘reveal’ of the murderer was nicely handled. So despite my reservations, I might just read the next book in the series to discover if any of the potential of the first book has been realised in the second.
Lisa is presently carrying a sleeveful of tissues, a weight of scandalous secrets, a flu virus, an unborn child, a paint roller and a Lemsip. To discover more about Lisa and her mule-like qualities, click here.
Walker Books,ISBN-13: 978-1406314601, 160 pages, £4.99.
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