Caroline Lawrence once again demonstrates her uncanny ability to both entertain and educate simultaneously, taking us to Nevada, North America, during the 1860s and giving us a pistol-packed history lesson in the process. The central character, PK Pinkerton, is a 12 year old half-Sioux orphaned detective tasked with solving “Western Mysteries”. Perhaps not as clever as Flavia Gemina (from the Roman Mysteries), PK is nevertheless appealing to younger readers with his/her Chinese partner (“pard”) Ping and pony Cheeya. The ambiguity of whether PK is a girl or a boy is appealing, drawing readers into the character of the hero/ heroine.
The book is the 3rd in the series but can easily be read without having read the first 2 books. Younger readers may at first find some of the American terminology a little difficult to understand as indeed those of us adults living in the UK. Unfamiliar spellings of familiar words (trowsers for trousers, clew for clue) and grammatical variations (he finally got throwed/ thrown in jail, he glid off/ glided) may be a touch confusing but these add to the western feel of the narrative and add beef jerky (meat) to the novel. Caroline Lawrence provides a useful glossary (akin to Aristo’s scroll in the Roman Mysteries) - brief enough to hold the attention of younger readers but with enough facts to give readers historical insight into life during American Civil War, the gold rush and franchising of toll roads.
Caroline Lawrence gives her characters appealing and vivid names (Opal Blossom, Violetta de Baskerville, Poker Face Jace). The story is written with innocent humour (Frenchy drinking himself to death when there is no water), moves at a fast pace with plenty of disguises, desperados, gunmen and murder, giving the reader a whip-cracking ride through to a thrilling ending to reveal PK’s biggest secret. Hold onto your reins for the sequel!