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on 9 June 2012
PK Pinkerton is back with a new mystery to solve. Someone has brutally murdered Short Sally. Her slave girl, Martha, the only witness and on the run, begs PK to find the killer. But there are all too many suspects and it isn't just Martha the killer wants out of the way. Life quickly gets dangerous for PK too. He (or she?) is swung at, shot at, nearly kissed, nearly burned alive and he is imprisoned. He climbs over rooftops, disguises himself and interviews all manner of people in order to find Sally's killer.
It was hard to imagine that the Case of the Good-Looking Corpse could be as good as The Deadly Desperados, but it really is. It has the same brilliantly recreated world, the same skilled narration and flawless voice. As well as this, it's a thrilling mystery that keeps you guessing almost until the end. Really, really impressive writing. I highly recommend this to readers young and old. You won't be able to put it down once you've started.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 June 2012
It's been my pleasure this weekend to become reacquainted with P.K. Pinkerton, a 12-year old detective in 1860s' Virginia City, a Wild West town where `folk either want to kill you or kiss you' and a nom de plume isn't just something you wear in your hat. There's barely a nation in the world or a colour of skin that doesn't have a representative in this town of poker, Soiled Doves, saloons, spitoons, fast-drawn guns and billy-goat beards. Life is short and if the wagons from the local quartz mine don't cut you in two then its just as likely that the opium pipe or a bullet fired in hasty anger will get you. And when they do, the local paper will cover it (the Enterprise) and P.K. Pinkerton will make it his business to discover The Truth.

Caroline Lawrence has a gift. Actually she has (at least) two. She is not only hugely knowledgeable about daily life in the past, whether it be in the Wild West for the P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries or in 1st century AD Rome for the superb Roman Mysteries, she is also able to impart that knowledge in the most accessible, informative and fun way. Both sets of mysteries may be aimed at kids (teens and a little younger) but, if age sets no barriers in your reading, as it doesn't in mine, then you will soak up these worlds and you will learn stuff. Some years ago, I travelled around some original old ghost towns in the hills of California and when I read the P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries, I can hear the creak of the saloon swingdoors and I can feel the menace in the glare of the stranger from out of town.

In this second mystery for P.K. (Pinky) Pinkerton, and I will hazard a wager that it's even better than The Case of the Deadly Desperados: The P. K. Pinkerton Mysteries 1, P.K. is determined to investigate the murder of Short Sally. Sally is one of the town's Soiled Doves, whose violent end was witnessed by her maid, the little Martha, whom, from that day forth, has trouble even staying alive. It's not long before P.K. has a list of suspects which he doggedly pursues, swapping disguise for disguise and placing himself in great dangers.

In Virginia City life is cheap, especially if you're an Indian or half-Indian like our young hero, if you're a negro like Martha, or Chinese like Ping. Preachers may recite the gospel but this is a flock that dwells in bawdy houses or saloons. P.K. is an orphan of murdered adopted parents. But despite this sadness and isolation he likes to be alone and this is one of the great strengths of the P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries.

P.K. is not your usual young boy. He has Foibles, Eccentricities and Mulligrubs. He is a child who doesn't want to be touched, who has obsessions and will sit and rock himself in times of unhappiness. He always speaks the truth. There's a strong sense that he isn't quite what he seems. In the Wild West days a child (or even an adult) like this has a mission on his hands just surviving. But P.K. is surrounded by a bunch of fascinating characters, such as Poker Face Jace and writer Sam Clemens (later known as Mark Twain) who teach P.K. about understanding people - or, as P.K. sees it, being a detective - and in so doing teach us, the reader, more about these rough and tough old days.

This might be a book for kids but noone is spared the horrors of the day and in 1860s America that means the American Civil War. The trauma of a battle that leaves 20,000 men dead in piles of bodies is felt here. There are lynchings, slaves, woman as living playthings and harsh lives in the mines. There are too many violent deaths to even rate a line from the papermen of the Enterprise. But nevertheless there are plenty of laughs and, above all, wonderful descriptions of the town and landscape of Virginia City.

The story is enhanced by the book's fantastic maps and little drawings that open and close each chapter or ledger sheet. Even the font makes a statement about the place and time. The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse is such a pleasure to read in so many ways. This review is from a review copy for which I'm very grateful.
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on 19 June 2012
This book does a fabulous job of bringing the Wild West to modern kids without shying away from unpleasant details, at the same time not overloading them. Having P. K. narrate means that we get a child's eye view which is at once naive and realistic. There are shootings, men of extremely dubious morals and prostitutes in this story, set against a background of Civil War, slavery and crime. And yet, this is a children's book which I would happily read to/with my 8 yr old in a year or so. There is nothing grisly or gratuitious, P. K.'s matter-of-fact narration avoids any glorification or romanticisation of the less savoury aspects, and it's all done subtly enough for the younger readers to remain blissfully unaware of some of the detail.

P.K.'s voice is so compelling. I really haven't read another book like it. It's been compared to Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" because both narrators seem to be on the autism spectrum (P.K. refers to having a "thorn" which makes interpreting non-verbal cues difficult, and also means being touched is unwelcome), but there are key differences. I would say that Haddon's book is more 'about' Christopher being autistic, whereas here it is just one aspect of P. K.'s character. Caroline Lawrence also uses P. K.'s naivety as a narrator to more humorous effect - this naivety coming as much from age as it does from the 'thorn'.

The plot works well as a mystery, with a satisfying conclusion which is set up effectively through the story. As with all good mysteries, there are subplots and side tracks to confound the reader as well as the detective. Historical accuracy is important to the author (she also wrote the Roman Mysteries, for which the Classical Association have honoured her with a prize), so you can be sure that kids will learn something of the US from the nineteenth century simply by immersing themselves in P.K.'s world for a while. I particularly enjoyed the insertion of Sam Clemens at the earliest stage of his journalistic career (later to write as Mark Twain).

Overall, there is much to commend in this book that makes it worthwhile for child readers. But they will want to read it - and should read it - because it truly is a cracking read that they can happily get lost in.
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on 20 June 2012
Barely has PK Pinkerton surfaced from extreme danger in The Case of the Deadly Desperados than he's back in it, thanks to a plea for help from a terrified servant girl, Martha, to find whoever murdered her mistress, Sally Sampson. PK makes a hilariously unlikely detective, by character unable to conceal his thoughts he questions people openly, shares his list of suspects with anyone who asks and is easily duped by people `pranking' him. In no time at all he has a dozen enemies on his trail....

This is a cracking good story that gallops away so fast it gives the sensation of being caught up in the Virginia City `Zephyr' (aka hurricane) until one emerges at the end, breathless and blinking the desert dust away. Caroline Lawrence brilliantly stands our preconceptions of mystery-solving on their head: it is PK's dogged persistence, honesty, courage and attention to details other people don't bother with that count in the end. And I loved the key role played by Sam Clemens (Mark Twain), whose wildly inaccurate news reporting causes PK so much irritation.
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on 10 June 2012
Another hugely enjoyable book about PK Pinkerton, who has no sense of humour himself but is hilarious to read about. Full of golden hearted Soiled Doves, mean lean desperadoes and extremely sticky situations for our hero - not least the number of pesky females who want to give him a kiss on the cheek, when he absolutely HATES being touched. Love it.
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on 20 June 2012
Hot on the heels of the deadly desperadoes PK is back solving another mystery in American wild west. As a 41 year old reading out loud a bedtime story to a nine year old, I'm captivated and every night I'm caught reading past my sons lights out, much to his delight and my wifes dismay! For my son PK is simply awesome, the story is rich in history and detail and invites a near constant stream of questions and observations. Go Caroline Lawrence!
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I loved The Case of the Deadly Desperados so couldn't wait to catch up with our young detective P.K. Pinkerton as he goes about solving his latest mystery in The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse. I mentioned in my review of the first book that I wasn't sure of P.K's gender and now having read the second book I have to admit that is still the case so I'm going to continue to refer to him as male as that is the way he spends most of his time acting. I have to applaud the author for making me change my mind so many times throughout the book without ever providing a definitive answer though. I think one of P.K's charms is his innocence, the way he refuses to conform completely to one gender or the other and the fact that he has no embarrassment about dressing as a girl when he needs a disguise.

This story picks up right after the last one ends and we see P.K. setting up shop as a Private Detective. Unfortunately nobody seems to take a 12 year old detective seriously so he has plenty of time on his hands while he waits for his first case. That was until a young girl called Martha comes to him for help, she worked as a lady's maid for Short Sally and was the only witness to her murder. Martha is terrified that the killer will come after her next and begs P.K. to solve the case and keep her safe. P.K. is determined to do a good job on his first case to prove that he can make it as a Detective but when his witness goes missing things get a whole lot more complicated.

If you've read the first book you'll already know that P.K. is a young autistic child who has many foibles and eccentricities. He also has a lot of difficulty reading people and understanding their facial expressions which can lead to some amusing misunderstandings. I love P.K's outlook on life, he tries so hard to understand why people do the things they do but at the same time he makes no apologies for the way he sees things. In a lot of ways you could think of him as someone who is quite simple but just to survive in the Wild West as an orphan shows how smart he really is.

Caroline Lawrence does such a fantastic job of pulling you into the story and making it feel like you have stepped back in time, she includes so many little details that just add depth to P.K's world and I can't read these books without having a smile on my face. I'm not sure what age range these children's books are aimed at but can say without hesitation that as an adult I thoroughly enjoy reading them. Alongside P.K. we have been introduced to a great selection of characters and I particularly enjoy watching Poker Face Jace teaching P.K. the signs to look for when someone feeling a strong emotion. If you liked the first book then you'll love this one just as much and I really hope that we get to read more of P.K's adventures in the future.
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on 11 July 2012
The Good Looking Corpse begins within hours of the previous book finishing. The streets of Virginia City are teeming with young gunfighters battling it out to take the place of Whittlin' Walt as the 'Chief of the Comstock Desperadoes'. The self-styled and self-schooled detective, P.K. Pinkerton is nursing the bullet injury sustained in the previous story and wondering if anyone will ever take a twelve year old detective seriously when a black servant girl called Martha turns up asking for help. Martha has witnessed the murder of her mistress, 'Short' Sally Simpson, and is convinced that the murderer is now after her too. P.K. can't resist the case, of course, and immediately embarks on an enquiry that takes the reader on a rollercoaster trip through the seemier parts of Virginia City in the company of a glorious cast of larger than life wild west characters and keeps P.K. and the reader guessing as to the identity of the killer right to the very end of the story.

And it's all enormous fun!

P.K. has a Thorn, Foibles and Eccentricities, and the Mulligrubs. The Thorn makes it diificult for P.K. to relate to other people and read their emotions. So P.K. has a system, a series of numbered facial expressions which would be fine if they didn't get confused sometimes. The Foibles and Eccentricities lead to collections, in this case, of different types of tobacco, which P.K. puts to good use in solving the crime. And the Mulligrubs are a dark mood that can only be combatted by the sort of visioning that, in my experience, is more usually advocated by the lovely ladies of the National Child Birth Trust.

Put all this together with the wry, charming voice that Lawrence uses here and you have a matter-of-fact little hero who steers their way through an historical reality that pulls no punches. There are gunfights, mutilated bodies, drunks and gamblers, prostitutes and slavery, and the sheer carnage of the American Civil War. It's all just there. P.K. takes it for granted and so the reader does too. And, quite frankly, it's delightful. I love P.K.'s tendency to capitalise words. I love the odd spelling mistakes and the slang. It brings the whole story alive and it makes you want to join that never ending line of girls and ladies who want to give P.K. a hug and a kiss even though the Thorn means P.K. hates to be touched.

And there you have it. A wonderful story with a wonderful character by a wonderful author. I'm off to find The Deadly Desperadoes now and I can't wait to get my hands on the next one too.
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on 10 June 2012
The whole family enjoyed 'The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse'. Ms Lawrence always creates such a great world for her characters to inhabit and this new series is no exception. We loved 'The Case of the Deadly Desperados', so were delighted to see this second in the Western Mysteries series was out. Really good plot and wonderful, unusual characters led by the intriguing and sympathetic PK. A real page-turner, enjoyed by my 9 year old son and 12 year old daughter, as well as myself. Can't wait for book 3 to come out!
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on 6 July 2012
The Case of the Good-looking corpse is the second book in the PK Pinkerton Series. The first book introduced readers to the life and ways of the Wild West, whilst this book follows PK's first proper investigation in Virginia City, where he has set up as a private eye. Having explored the ways of the Wild West in her first mystery in this planned collection, in this book Caroline Lawrence focuses on the mystery of the murder of the soiled dove, Short Sally.
PK sets up business as a private eye and is commissioned by a young girl to solve the `biggest mystery in Virginia City'. He follows his list of suspects around, questioning some interesting characters along the way. His adventures take him to many unusual settings including the entertaining Topliffe's theatre, where PK re-encouters Belle Donne who appeared in the first book.
The plot is really engrossing with unexpected twists and turns. Along with Belle Donne we come face to face with other familiar characters from the Case of the Deadly Desperados together with some new ones and many a `tall, blond and with a Billie-goat beard'.
I really loved the mystery and plot of this book. It took me even further into the world of the Wild West than the first book. I can't wait to read about PK's next adventure.
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