A truly captivating story, beautifully illustrated with the breathtaking backdrop of a train journey across Europe and a cast of characters worthy of any classic detective story. A book to treasure and read again and again!
Brilliant book full of action, twists and turns, and bold, quirky characters that stay with you after the book is over. This book is full of peril without ever becoming too scary, and the settings and events feel fresh and unique.
Sylvia Bishop previously won my heart with The Bookshop Girl, and she has twiddled her pen and made magic again.
Max is on a thrilling train journey across Europe. Her Great Aunt Elodie in Instanbul summons a member of her Parisian family to be her temporary companion, and Max, being the youngest and the least busy, takes the challenging adventure. Except it becomes so much more than she imagines, because the Heartbreak Diamond is missing, and the police think it’s on her train. With her travelling chaperone, a nun, will Max find the will and the way to seek the diamond herself and capture the thief before the train reaches Istanbul?
The book takes the format of the train journey, setting the chapters in different sections of the journey from Paris through Munich, Budapest and Bucharest to Istanbul. And while Max whittles down the passengers to a final list of suspects, she may be closer to the thief than she had imagined.
This is the tale of an ordinary life interrupted, told beautifully and with childlike wonder. Bishop completely nails Max’s feeling of trepidation for her journey - a homesickness before she’s even left, and plays on this subtle combination of wistfulness for home and longing for adventure. Bishop also has impeccable comic timing, and a deliciously wicked insight into being the smallest of a larger family.
Tucked in are a few jokes for adults too, in case this is an adventure the reader is sharing with their child, and I particularly chuckled at Max’s mother’s mannerisms and question avoidance. Bishop has a delightful turn of phrase, which makes an everyday story feel fresh and lively with every sentence:
“Then one day, when December had arrived and iced Paris all over with a slippery frosting, Max skidded-slid-stumbled home from school to find her mother on the phone. She was saying ‘Mm-hmm, of course’ with her voice, and YOU ARE AN UNBEARABLE STRAIN ON MY SAINTLY PATIENCE with her eyes.”
And also tenderly wise:
“That is the trouble with ideas that you have before dawn: they are extra sticky.”
Bishop also plays with expectations: not only in Max’s gender - full name Maximilienne, but also with the suspects and their intentions and motivations - keeping the reader guessing. The narrative feels slightly retro or timeless with parents who don’t helicopter or track their child’s movements, but also a child who has the time to be bored, and thus to seek adventure. But there are still moments of modern sensibility throughout:
“it turned out that even in this strange new country, miles away from her own, all the statues were still of a man-on-a-horse,”
But I think one of the most stellar qualities about this piece of writing is that despite having a gentle rhythm that mimicks the chugging of a train, it also feels tense and exciting, mirroring Max’s emotions.
This is a fabulous story with suitably elegant European illustrations, a terrifically authentic heroine (who often takes the naughtier option), and a cast of eccentrics who are beautifully imagined. Don’t miss your own trip on the Night Train, it's a winning adventure. (I’ve even pencilled in Sylvia Bishop’s next….you probably should too).
I was sent this book by the publisher in return for an honest review. You can read more of my reviews at minervareads dot com
I must confess I've always longed to board a sleeper train and travel across Europe, it would be such a joy to go to sleep in one country and wake up in a whole new place. So when I opened up my copy of 'The Secret of the NIght Train,' I was instantly captivated at the thought of travelling with Max from Paris to Istanbul and that's before I knew she was about to become deeply embroiled in a complex crime-solving expedition. Beautiful storytelling meets compelling mystery unravelling in a tale of diamond smugglers, thieves and undercover detectives. Sylvia has a special talent for creating the most intriguing and wonderful characters who you can't help but fall in love with and Max is no exception. I was totally charmed and entertained by this exciting whirlwind of a story that had me devouring the whole book in one sitting. Marco's illustrations are beautifully detailed capturing the sheer joy of this great journey and the thrill of the chase as Max tries to uncover the true identity of the diamond thief. An irresistible and breath-taking read, I'm really hoping there is more to come from our delightful heroine Max.