Review Blog

Apr 08 2010

Nathaniel Wolfe and the Bodysnatchers by Brian Keaney

cover image

Orchard Books, 2009.
(Ages 9 +) This is an atmospheric ghost story perfect for readers who demand action rather than description. Keaney crafts a complex plot, but tells his story both simply and swiftly. There is barely time to pause for breath and plenty of cliff hanging tension to keep young readers on the edge of their seats as the plot twists and turns to its dramatic climax.
Nathaniel Wolfe is a ghost hunter in Victorian England, and this time it's the ghost of an old man that haunts him; an old man in great distress, who tries to give Nathaniel a mysterious gold ring. Nathaniel and his friends Sophie and Lily discover that the ghost longs to make peace with the daughter he rejected at birth. As a massive fortune is involved, the three children are in a race against time to locate the daughter and save her and the money from the devious and aptly named Mr Hemlock and his band of murderous bodysnathers.
Keaney immerses his readers in the Victorian era and his account of the harrowing opium dens is full of atmosphere, as is his description of Old Phossy, a shady character who suffers from Phosphorus jaw from his work in the match factories. Peoples' terror of cholera and the newfangled idea that cholera is actually a waterborne rather than airborne disease also gets a mention, although it was John Snow, not Henry Snow as Keaney suggests, who discovered this. (That kind of error, although minor, does irritate me as it smacks of slapdash research that should have been picked up at the editing stage if not before.)
Minor criticisms aside, three of the Year 5 children at my school (ages 9 and 10) devoured it and gave it top marks. This is the second Nathaniel Wolfe story, but it's not essential to read them in the correct order. I'm sure Keaney will write more and this has the potential to become a very popular series. If your readers enjoy this, they might also like Tim Pigott-Smith's Baker Street Mysteries.
Claire Larson

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