Here is a series that I thoroughly enjoy! There seems to be an influx of children's mystery series from England that are making their way onto shelves here in America, and I, for one, couldn't be more pleased. They are (so far) well-written and so much fun to read.
Lizzie Brown is a young girl in Victorian England who's mother died years ago and whose father was a drunk and thief. She escapes his abuse by joining Fitzy's Traveling Circus. In the first book, Lizzy discovers she has psychic ability, able to see into people's pasts, as well as their future, just by touching them. She develops some friendships with other children in the circus, and with the help of Lizzy's newfound abilities, they unmask a phantom that has been terrorizing London.
This second book, The Devil's Hound, picks up shortly after the end of the first book. The circus is headed for Kensal Green, a rural area of London, to pitch their tents. As they pass by a large cemetery, the animals begin to react funny. The circus performers believe there is a curse on the cemetery, and that it is haunted by a huge animal referred to as the Devil's Hound. Lizzie scoffs, as she does not believe in ghosts and the supernatural. However, she and her friends (who refer to themselves as "The Penny Gaff Gang") meet a young girl whose own father has recently died of small pox, they become embroiled in a rather interesting mystery involving grave robbers. Lizzie and her friends come face to face with the Devil's Hound, and they ultimately learn that these grave robbers are searching for more than just buried treasures.
Lizzie also learns that she has other abilities beyond just seeing the past and future - in this book, she is able to catch and hear a glimpse of those who have died. While she gives her new young friend some reassurance about her passing father's love for her, it doesn't dawn on her until later that she might be able to reach out to her own mother who died all those years ago.
While I will admit, I figured out pretty early on that something else was going on beyond the grave robbing, as well as who was behind it, the author, Vicki Lockwood, weaves the story so well, keeps the action going strong throughout, and develops the characters so thoroughly (which is an amazing feat, considering how many characters are in this circus - yet, Lockwood focuses her attention on a few in each book, while a pretty fare share may appear in the story), that I couldn't put it down until I was finished!
The books are hardbound with some beautifully painted covers by Stephanie Hans. This one, showing Maggie staring out from behind a gravestone at the horrifying Devil's Hound in the fog, is spooky and mysterious. I think anyone who picks up books based solely on the cover would have a hard time passing this one up!
My one annoyance (if you can call it that) about this series is that the books are not numbered, so I have to do a little detective work to figure out which book follows next. The first two books were easy to tell (since the Phantom clearly describes itself as the first in the series). However, while the back of this book gives a two page preview for The Ghost Ship, there are two books - The Fairy Child and The Ghost Ship - that both came out recently. My OCD kicks in here, as I want to make sure they are read in order (and since they seem to follow a timeline, I don't want to skip one and have to go back and read it out of order). Sadly, I wasn't able to find an author or series website that provides a listing. Even the publisher's website was not overly helpful in that area.
However, that's a small detail, and one I can easily overlook due to the enjoyment I get from the books. I have the third and fourth books already, and I definitely look forward to them!
RATING: 10 midnight howls out of 10 for great characterization, a great mystery, and great suspense!