My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Wollstonecraft Detectives are approached by paleontologist Mary Anning looking to rescue her dog from some blackmailers that want the scientist to authenticate a fake skeleton at the new British Museum. But the quartet’s mission is thwarted by Ada’s imperiously strict grandmother, a doctor whose over-eager with his use of leeches, and odd agents with a connection to the mysterious Nora Radel.
Stratford ups the stakes of his series here, splitting the four girls up & throwing obstacles in the way of their reunion. There’s interesting tension as a result & lets the story develop naturally to make sure that all our characters are on the same page. One shining example is the auction scene, where each person knows the group has a specific goal to work toward, but each has to improvise as one by one their party is thwarted. An elegant scene combining drawing-room drama & sleight-of-hand ensues. Unfortunately, due to constraints of the page count (I imagine) some action takes place off-page & leads to more exposition than usual, but Stratford covers this with word games & introductory logic puzzles for his young readers.
As an adult reader, I am still fascinated by the narrative acrobatics the author employs to skate over some of the more scandalous real-life aspects of his characters. Ada’s intractable mother is still a threat to the story & the presence of Allegra is explicitly mentioned as a problem as a result, but Stratford still manages to steer clear of the complication that Claire presents. (Claire is Allegra’s real-life mother, but in the story is still barely a teenager & has never met Lord Byron & also, this is a book for kids so there’s nothing even approaching sex-and-romance.) And I’m very intrigued by the included preview snippet for the next book in the back, which promises the appearance of Medora Leigh. (Really?! REALLY? How are you going to explain that one in your historical notes, sir?) Are you equally intrigued, dear Reader? If so, join me in speculation & try out the series.