The Phar Lap Mystery, by Sophie Masson

April 3, 1931
It’s funny how some days that start of well can end up really badly. Today, my eleventh birthday, was just like that. It was bright and sunny when I woke up, and Dad sang happy birthday to me at breakfast and gave me a new set of pencils and this diary. he knows how much I love writing, and that I want to be a writer when I grow up. So he picked out a really nice one for me, it’s even got a tiny key so you can lock it up and no-one can poke their nose into what you’ve written! He said, ‘This is for you to practise, sweetheart, because all famous writers have to start somewhere!’

It’s the 1930s in Australia – Depression time – and Sally and Dad are doing it tough. Dad’s a private detective, but he hasn’t worked for months. Then he gets a call about investigating attacks on Phar Lap, the most famous horse in Australia. It pays well and Sally begins to see her old happy Dad, not the grump he’s been lately. It’s just Sally and Dad since Mum’s death, so Sally travels with Dad to Melbourne to begin the investigation. She keeps track of what’s going on in her diary, seeing it as practice for her future career as a mystery writer. But it’s all very exciting too, as she gets to meet Phar Lap and the people who look after him. Fact blends with fiction as Sally and her dad follow Phar Lap’s fortunes and fame across the ocean to America and Mexico. And throughout, Sally maintains her diary, documenting her own life, as well as Phar Lap’s.

Phar Lap is well-known now to most Australians, but what was it like to be around when he was actually winning races? Sophie Masson takes the reader back in time to show them what it was like to be living alongside a legend. What Australians remember now is a fast, good-looking horse, universally loved. But of course nothing is ever that simple. A horse that wins every race is no good to bookies who make their money on the chance that a horse will win, not the certainty. Sally is exposed to the romance of the unbeatable Phar Lap but also the criminal elements of the racing world. Sally’s diary spans a year from her eleventh to her twelfth birthday. As well as recording the excitement of the Phar Lap story, she documents the evolution of her ‘family’ from just Dad, to include friends new and old, locally, interstate and internationally. Recommended for upper primary readers.

The Phar Lap Mystery (My Australian Story)

The Phar Lap Mystery, Sophie Masson
Scholastic Press 2010
ISBN: 9781741697278

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.