20 Books of Summer: Book 5

Oh my goodness – I loved this story so much.  The historical context is brilliantly drawn, and gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the passengers aboard The Titanic, all with stories to tell, places to go and lives to live … which makes what happens all the more heart-breaking.

The story is told from the dual viewpoint of 12-year-old Bertha, who is excited to be going to America to join her father, and 14-year-old Johan who is homesick and lonely and not at all keen to join his father.  Bertha boards as a second-class passenger whereas Johan is in third class; the differences between these groups is brilliantly portrayed. 

As Johan is boarding, a red-haired man drops a piece of paper as he rushes aboard, which Johan picks up.  Inside is what appears to be a treasure map and a tiny, silver key.  Determined to make his fortune so that he can have the rest of his family join him, Johan is keen to find someone to help him decipher the writing …

Luckily for him, Bertha has decided to start The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency with her new friend, Marjorie.  Chance soon finds Johan and Bertha meeting and he reluctantly asks her to help him.  Bertha, of course, is excited by this case and sets out to help him track down the missing treasure which may not be at all what they expected, but may open their eyes to treasures beyond price …

The Collyer-Watt Detective Agency also has another mystery to solve, this one involving the rather suspicious Mr Collyer and his two young sons.  What secrets is he hiding?  Why is he so reluctant to let his children talk to Bertha? 

Then the unthinkable happens … the unsinkable ship hits an ice-berg.  The description of the passengers and crew’s reaction is so powerful and so heart-breaking … I could feel the uncertainty, the panic, the fear as they realised the ship was sinking and that there weren’t enough life boats …

Bertha is a strong-willed, independent young lady who is determined to solve the cases she has taken on, even if this leads her to into places she should not be.  She does not conform to society’s expectations of her, and is keen to seek greater freedoms in America.  Johan is an incredibly sympathetic character.  He suffers from terrible seasickness and is miserable on board, yet he fights against this in order to find the treasure which he hopes will offer him a different life, and the chance to be reunited with his mother.    

I was truly fascinated by the insight into life aboard The Titanic from the segregation of passengers to the conditions they lived in to the way different groups of people were treated when the worst happened.  I loved the author’s afterword which details what happened to some of the surviving passengers.

This is a truly engrossing historical fiction, a perfect blend of historical context and mystery. 

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