The Secret Detectives

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Pub Date 3 Jun 2021 | Archive Date 3 Jun 2021

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A gripping, beautifully written historical mystery, from an incredible new voice in children’s fiction.

The body seemed to fall for a long time. There was no splash, or if there was it was lost in the waves. Isobel was frozen to the spot for a moment – and then her common sense caught up with her, and she stepped back quickly into the shadows.

When Isobel Petty is orphaned, she finds herself being taken away from her home in India and sent to live with a distant uncle in England. On board the S.S. Marianna, she witnesses a shocking act – somebody being thrown overboard in the middle in the night. But when the ship’s captain insists that nobody is missing, Isobel and her two new reluctant friends must solve two mysteries – the identities of both the murderer and the victim – before they reach England and the culprit has the chance to escape.

Inspired by The Secret Garden and the golden age of crime writing, The Secret Detectives is perfect for fans of Robin Stevens and Katherine Rundell.

“A thoroughly entertaining mystery and a heartening story of friendship. I loved it.”Katherine Woodfine, author of The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow

A gripping, beautifully written historical mystery, from an incredible new voice in children’s fiction.

The body seemed to fall for a long time. There was no splash, or if there was it was lost in the...

Advance Praise

"The Secret Detectives is a gripping Middle Grade mystery with hints of Nancy Drew and The Secret Garden intertwined in its gripping plot." Kate Heap, Scope for Imagination 

"Absolutely recommended to all age 7 to 107, it is brilliant!" Fiona Sharp, Independent Book Reviews

"The Secret Detectives is a beautifully written, assured debut and Ella Risbridger is most definitely an extraordinary new voice in children’s fiction." Emma Kuyateh, Primary Teacher Bookshelf (blog)

"The Secret Detectives is a gripping Middle Grade mystery with hints of Nancy Drew and The Secret Garden intertwined in its gripping plot." Kate Heap, Scope for Imagination 

"Absolutely recommended to...

Available Editions

EDITION Paperback
ISBN 9781788006002
PRICE £7.99 (GBP)

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Featured Reviews

A life-changing journey on a 19th century ship bound for England, leaving behind everything you’ve ever known, witnessing a murder on a dark night… The Secret Detectives is a gripping Middle Grade mystery with hints of Nancy Drew and The Secret Garden intertwined in its gripping plot.

Eleven-year-old Isobel Petty is alone in the world. On her way to England from India to live with her uncle, she is under the care of Mrs Colonel Hartington-Davis onboard the Marianna. It seems that Isobel can do nothing right. She is untidy, unloved and unacceptable. With no one else, she is forced into a friendship with Letitia Hartington-Davis and Sameer Khan, an unusual boy she meets on the ship.

When the children are the only witnesses of a late night, cold-blooded murder, they band together to use all of their detective and journalism skills to try to solve the case. They must observe everyone, keep secrets from the adults and discover just who has something to hide. They soon discover that everyone has a secret and nothing is as it seems. With motives, suspects, and mysterious notes to consider, it doesn’t take long for the trio to get in over their heads. Only teamwork and trust will see them through.

This is a story of identity and value. Whether English, Indian, servant or master, the children explore the importance of a person’s place in the world, consider whether anyone can choose who they are and challenge the judgements made by those who believe they are in power or better than others. The passenger list for the ship is a microcosm of society at the time: adults, children, women, men, the elderly, servants, masters, people from different countries… Who deserves respect? Who is important? Who should be heard?

This exciting mystery has so many layers to discuss. Children will be swept away in the story as they work with Isobel, Sam and Letitia to discover the truth while questioning the systemic racism of the British government and people living in India at the time. Teachers will find numerous opportunities to discuss how views have changed (or not changed) as well as details about geography, history and literature to develop children’s knowledge.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story for so many reasons but I especially loved the confidence of each of the three main characters. So sure of themselves in their own ways, they are ready to take on the world and stand up for what they believe to be right no matter what.

Thank you to Nosy Crow for this engaging mystery and thought-provoking story!

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A lovely flowing story very reminiscent of The Secret Garden and with similarities to A Little Princess.
Isobel is a free spirit who, having lost her whole family, is traveling on board ship to England. She is accompanied by a well to do woman with her own daughter, Letitia, a similar age to Isobel.
Isobel is convinced there is a mystery to solve on board and will go to any lengths to do so. She is unconcerned with conforming to the standards that Letitia's mother expects from children in her care and runs amok on the ship.
Isobel is a charming wild child that will have you rooting for her from the start.
Brilliantly written with great appeal to children of middle grade age, I feel sure this book will make as great a mark on many children as The Secret Garden had done over the years.

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It has been a long time since I have read a detective novel and so I was really happy to receive an e-arc copy of this book from NetGalley. I was really intrigued to read that this novel is inspired by the characters in the Secret Garden, and I could definitely feel the parallels, however you do not have to be familiar with the Secret Garden to read this.

I really like the setting of this book. I loved the descriptions of the ship and I could visualise the children running around on the decks and creating secret dens in the ships lifeboats.

The children discover a murder and spend their time on the ship trying to uncover the motive and the killer. They do so in a child-like way, which I really enjoyed. Sometimes they are messy and get things wrong and sometimes they over-look things. They have the advantage of being children which means they can get away with things that adults can not.

The children’s characters were really lovely, and they had such strong personalities. I could also visualise how they looked and acted. I particularly liked the character Sam who is very grown up and insightful. He gives Isobel such lovely advice and is very calm and kind. I loved it when he said ‘ you don’t have to like people more or less. You can just like them differently’. I found this really lovely. Sam helps bring Isobel and Lettie together and I really enjoyed them finding their friendships.

The charm to this book is the friendships which are discovered during the story. I really enjoyed coming along with them on their adventure. It would be lovely to find out what happened to the children after they disembark the ship!

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Taking inspiration from The Secret Garden and its main protagonist Mary Lennox, The Secret Detectives tells an exciting story about Mary’s, or in this case, Isobel’s journey from India to England.

Eleven-year-old orphan Isobel is a bit of misfit within society. Scruffy, ill-mannered, unloved and unappreciative, she is definitely not the kind of child that Mrs. Colonel Hartington-Davis would want to be escorting on a voyage from India to England. But this is exactly the situation that lady and child find themselves in. Being a minor, Isobel needs to be accompanied by a responsible adult on a journey to England to live with her uncle in Yorkshire.

Isobel would prefer to spend the trip alone and away from people but she is forced into a rather frosty friendship wth Letitia Hartington-Davis. And two quickly become three following a chance encounter with Sameer Khan - an eccentric young boy. When a terrible crime occurs in the middle of the night, the three children find themselves as the only witnesses and must join forces to try and bring the killer to justice before the ship docks and the killer has a chance to escape…

The Secret Detectives is an intriguing historical mystery set in the nineteenth century from a brand-new voice in children’s middle-grade fiction. This assured debut will hold much appeal to fans of the ever-expanding murder mystery genre for readers aged nine and over.

The action unfolds at a steady pace aboard the SS Marianna and largely flits between conversations under the lifeboat - the secret hideout and HQ of the Petty, Lettie and Khan Detective Agency - and meal-times in the dining room. With no-one reported missing and the captain confident that all of his passengers are accounted for the children definitely have their work cut out. As in all good mysteries, there are all manner of suspicious characters with their own secrets to hide and plenty of motives for murder. Add in twists, turns, red-herrings and the appearance of threatening hand-written notes and you’ve got al the ingredients for a murder mystery that will keep readers guessing right until the end.

In creating characters from vastly different backgrounds and with varying views of the society in which they exist, Risbridger is able to explore how background and upbringing has influenced their views on the colonial British rule of India. When the children are not conversing about the crime, they often have insightful talks as they discuss their place in wider society, the inequalities between the English and Indians and the disparity of the rich and their servants. These child views feel honest and the children do not hold back in the their opinions of society and people.

Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the children have much in common and themes of friendship, trust and teamwork are all central to the narrative. Although she would not admit it, friendship is particularly important for Isobel, who underneath her frosty exterior and unwelcoming demeanour is a child who really just wants to be accepted, appreciated and loved. There are some really heart-warming and touching moments as Isobel’s icy facade slowly begins to melt.

Really looking forward to seeing what Ella Risbridger does next, she is an exciting new voice in middle-grade fiction and definitely one to watch out for.

Recommended for 9+.

With thanks to Ella Risbridger and Nosy Crow for the advanced reader copy that was received through NetGalley.

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In this new and exciting middle-grade mystery, Ella Risbridger takes us to a time and place full of complications – India under British rule. Though most of the story takes place on a mail ship headed to England, the tension and discrimination of the time still persists, especially with a central character being the son of an Indian man and an English woman, and the main character, though the daughter of English people, doesn’t seem to quite take after them in looks. Risbridger uses the setting very deftly to show the way people native to their country were belittled, ignored, and looked down upon in contempt by their colonisers, and this weaves in with the mystery that Isobel and her two friends must solve.

Isobel is a very interesting character. She has spent the first eleven years of her life alone, and now, being left an orphan, has to travel with a well-to-do English family and put up with their perfect daughter Letitia. She keeps a notebook in which she writes everything she observes, preferring to watch those around her and learn their rules rather than speak and join in with them. She’s the perfect mix of angry, observant, and hopeful, and I enjoyed reading this story from her perspective. Sam, the final in the detective trio, is also brilliant, and a joy to read. I have to say Risbridger did a tremendous job with writing these children, making them both complex and simple in the way only children are – seeing the world still as a just place where things happen the way they should, yet understanding that adults are fallible and life is complicated, and their own feelings might be as well.

The mystery itself I also found compelling. Usually, when reading a middle-grade detective story I tend to be able to predict the ending about half-way through because of the hints that a younger reader might not pick up on, but in the case of The Secret Detectives I must confess I was stumped until the last, and I enjoyed having the three detectives explain the solution to me. My one complains would be to say that, due to the nature of the setting, things can get a little repetitive. Being on a ship, there are fixed schedules, and the characters spend a lot of the time talking over hypothesis, then being called away to a meal, and then having to squirrel away a little bit of time before the next one comes around. The narrator does address this, though, and the children find it equally as frustrating that their time isn’t exactly their own, so it’s only a small complaint on my side.

Overall, a brilliant read that will appeal to younger readers as well as those, like me, who still like children’s books. It’s fresh while still building on a long-standing tradition of English detectives and history, and the characters are entirely original and fun.

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The Secret Detectives is a wonderful tale of friendship and detection set on board an 1890s mail boat sailing from India to England. It's an excellent piece of writing and is wholly engrossing. I read it in one sitting and thoroughly enjoyed it.

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A really fun, engaging MG/YA adventure mystery perfect for modern day fans of The Secret Garden, The Famous Five and Harriet the Spy.

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What if Mary from the Secret Garden witnessed a crime on the ship home from India? That's the premise of this book, although the lead character is re-imagined as Isobel Petty, who spends her time observing and making notes about others whilst not fitting in herself. Untidy and uncommunicative, she's compared badly to the very pretty Letty - daughter of the woman escorting her home - and doesn't really know how to be friends with people. Then they witness a crime alongside Sameer Khan, and Isobel finds herself with two new friends and a mystery to solve.

This was an absorbing read, It also touches on race, class, the expectations of girls to be pretty, imperialism and more, in ways which fits the characters perfectly. I ended up wanting to read more about the three of them and how they all adapt to living in the UK and their future!

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