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.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly, by Sophie Masson

I do not think that anyone alive in our time will ever forget Ned Kelly. I know I never shall. Was he a hero? Was he a villain? I cannot say, even now. But he will live in my memory forever, the dark and the bright, together.

It is 1879 and 12 year old Jamie Ross and his older sister Ellen are travelling through Victoria. The Kelly Gang is on the roam, but Jamie and Ellen are not afraid. Rather, Ellen is hoping to have the opportunity to photograph them and make her fortune.

But their encounters with the Kelly’s and their supporters are not as they expect, and when the chance to take the photo arises, the chance to make money is no longer as exciting as it seems.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly is a diary format story exploring the life and times of Ned Kelly through the experiences of a child character. Like other titles in the My Australian Story series, the story combines fiction with history to give young readers a personal experience of this piece of history.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly will appeal to upper primary aged readers.

The Hunt for Ned Kelly (My Australian Story)

The Hunt for Ned Kelly (My Australian Story), by Sophie Masson
Scholastic, 2010

This title can be purchased online from Fishpond . Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Case of the Diamond Shadow, by Sophie Masson

Friends Daisy Miller and George Dale live in Thornton, a village in the English countryside. Both long for a more exciting life. First Daisy secures a post with a rich and eccentric Australian woman, Mrs Peabody and moves to London, then George seizes his opportunity too. Daisy finds her new duties allow her ample time to get to know London. She also spends time with dashing and attentive young Frenchman, Victor. She is quite entranced by all the perks of her new life, including the chance to meet famous people like movie star, Olivia Marlow. But who is ‘The Shadow’, who sends cards to his intended victims detailing the time and location he intends to rob them? Both Daisy and George, helped and hindered by their employers find themselves drawn deeper and deeper into the mystery. Sitting at home in their quiet English village, they had never have imagined quite such an exciting life!

The Case of the Diamond Shadow is a fast-paced, compelling mystery, set mostly in London of the 1930’s. Teenagers Daisy and George are good friends, with just a frisson of more hinted at (at least on George’s part). Both are employees of Miss Grantley’s Typing Bureau. Daisy is bright and enthusiastic and a fan of the movies. She is eager to sample life. George is painted as responsible and reliable, although a passionate fan of a famous detective and the books he writes about his cases. The action quickly moves away from their quiet home town, to the bustle and excitement of a posh London hotel. The narrative alternates between the two main characters, both told in third person. Styled like an Agatha Christie story, The Case of the Diamond Shadow is a twisting-turning-twisting mystery, with plenty of subtle humour. Recommended for 12+ readers.

The Case of the Diamond Shadow

The Case of the Diamond Shadow, Sophie Masson
ABC Books 2008
ISBN: 9780733323300

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Thomas Trew and the Klint-King's Gold

‘Did you hear what the Professor said?’ whispered Patch, her eyes starting nearly out of her head.
‘About hiding something big in plain sight? Yes!’ said Pinch.
‘I think that –’ Thomas began. But he never finished his sentence, for at that very moment, something hard came down on the back of his neck, and he fell into a roaring blackness, shot through with whizzing red stars.

Thomas is a human child whose destiny has taken him to live in the hidden world, in the marvellous village of Owlchurch. In this, his third adventure, Owlchurch is hosting the Magicians’ and Enchanters’ Convention, and Thomas is thrilled to be witnessing different kinds of magic. But when the valuable prizes for a special competition are stolen, Thomas and his friends Pinch and Patch decide to investigate.

Thomas Trew and the Klint-King’s Gold is an exciting fantasy for middle and upper primary aged readers. It stands alone, though readers will probably enjoy it more if they have read the earlier titles in the series.

Author Sophie Masson weaves a fantasy world which is both intriguing and humorous, with an impressive cast of characters painted in enough depth to satisfy young readers, who will be egaer to read the rest of the series.

Thomas Trew and the Klint-kings Gold

Thomas Trew and the Klint-King’s Gold, by Sophie Masson
Hodder, 2007

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Secret Army – Operation Loki, by Sophie Masson

Nicky Flamel, a motorbike racing ace.
Andromeda Frost, a beautiful English socialite.
Otis Falcon, a young American ex-boxer.

Three teenagers from very diverse backgrounds find they have one thing in common – psychic abilities which have been triggered by recent accidents. Now they are on Archangel Island, where a secret institute has been set up to train such psychics to battle the Nazis in Germany and abroad. But Andromeda is not happy on the island and when she escapes she finds herself caught up in a lot of trouble – trouble which Nicky and Otis must help her out of.

The Secret Army is a graphic novel from the combined talents of renowned children’s author Sophie Masson and artist and animator Anthony Davis. Set in the time of Hitler’s Germany the book is set against the background of real events, with the fantasy element of the main plot making the history interesting and accessible to young readers.

The use of the graphic novel format, with narration, speech bubbles and black and white illustrations, adds an interest factor and again makes the story accessible to readers of a range of abilities.

Especially likely to appeal to teenage boys.

The Secret Army: Operation, by Sophie Masson, illustrated by Anthony Davis
ABC Books, 2006