I am really rather partial to Middle Grade World War 2 stories. There’s just something about the era that never fails to captivate me, perhaps because it’s a time that belonged to my beloved grandparents. The Valley of Lost Secrets, Midnight Guardians and When the Sky Falls are some of my very favourite books and I can now add The Secret of the Treasure Keepers to that hall of fame – it’s pure Middle Grade gold!
It’s 1948. Whilst loitering in the corridors of The British Museum, twelve year old Ruth hears a phone ringing persistently in one of the offices. With most of the museum staff gone home for the day, she has an overwhelming urge to answer it. She tentatively lifts the receiver and what follows is a crackly conversation about long lost treasure. Calling from a telephone box, Mrs Mary Sterne is trying to contact Mr Knight, Curator of British collections.
‘If you can tell Mr Knight that some of the treasure – well what I hope is treasure – is still in the field. The ground is becoming waterlogged and snow is forecast…’
Ruth and her mother Harriet – a museum assistant – trek to the lonely Rook Farm to investigate the discovery of the long-buried treasure. But at the farmhouse, secrets lurk around every corner. Joe, the farmer’s son, is hiding something about the treasure, while Land Girl Audrey watches their every move – not to mention the mysterious and scary ‘Eel Man’ who spies on the farm from his hut in Magpie field.
But before Ruth can find out more, the treasure is stolen… With a storm coming, Ruth must race to uncover the secrets of the treasure keepers before all of their lives are changed forever.
This was just the type of twisty mystery I love! There were so many secrets (and lies) to unearth – believe me, trust nobody! I was really kept on my toes and couldn’t second-guess who was genuine.
Whilst many WW2 novels focus on the experiences of evacuees or the Blitz, The Secret of the Treasure Keepers highlights the aftermath of the war. With a crowded curriculum, we seldom have the time to focus in depth on this period of time and I feel children may not fully appreciate that although the War had ended, the recovery period was a long one. The battlescars are raw, both on the landscape and the people and number of characters we meet are grieving for lost loved-ones.
Life on the farm is extremely hard; rationing is still in force, harsh winters have caused the crops to fail, money is scarce – almost all the characters have motive. But the wartime Keep Calm and Carry On mentality shines on. The blitz spirit, hard graft and ‘make do and mend’ resolve is palpable. Not everything is how it seems, Ruth learns that appearances can be deceptive and important lessons about the importance of looking at things from different perspectives and not taking things (and people) at face value.
I thoroughly enjoyed travelling back in time to be reminded of a simple life without modern complications: no telephones, the smell of a pie baking in the range of a farmhouse kitchen, the relief of being able to light the fire in the evening to stretch out the coal ration…The isolation of Rook Farm, the inclement weather and just the right level of threat makes for an atmospheric setting for this thrilling historical mystery. I must, must, must read more A.M Howell!
Published by Usborne, The Secret of the Treasure Keepers will be released on March 31st.
With thanks to Netgalley and Usborne Publishing for approving me to read an advance of publication.