I’m a huge fan of A.M. Howell’s historical adventures and was so excited when I discovered that there was a fourth which, I must admit, might just be my favourite. The Secret of the Treasure Keepers is a brilliantly absorbing, intriguing historical adventure which builds a sense of mystery so masterfully that I absolutely had to keep reading. This is not only a gripping mystery, it is also a window into the past, and into the lives of characters who feel so real that it was a privilege to follow their story.
It’s 1948, and twelve-year-old Ruth Goodspeed and her mother are adjusting to life in post-war London. The scars of the war are still with them as damaged buildings surround them, there are shortages of electricity and some foods are still rationed. More personally, Ruth’s parents’ marriage has not survived the war and they are getting divorced, leaving Ruth in danger of losing her home. When her mother gets the opportunity to have her volunteer work with the British Museum turned into paid employment, she seizes her chance. Whilst her mother – an aspiring archaeologist – is being interviewed by the stern curator, Mr Knight, Ruth is unable to ignore the persistent ringing of a telephone in his office.
Mrs Mary Sterne, the owner of Rook Farm in the Fens, tells her that she may have found ancient treasure in one of her farm fields. As Mr Knight is both unapproachable and busy with another excavation, Mary convinces her mother to journey to Rook Farm to investigate the treasure with the hope that her mother can prove herself to Mr Knight and gain the paid employment which has been denied her.
When they arrive at the isolated Farm, they are welcomed by everyone except for Mrs Sterne’s son, Joe, who wants them to leave. The family have hit hard times after the death of Joe’s Dad and are struggling financially, so they are keen to discover if they have buried treasure on their land. After seeing the Roman artefacts which had been found when ploughing, Ruth and her Mum are keen to excavate the site to discover more. Further treasure is uncovered, treasure that Ruth’s Mum wants to discuss with Mr Knight in London, leaving Ruth behind to help on the farm until her return.
Ruth is convinced that there are family secrets -as well as treasure – buried at the Farm, and she is determined to uncover them. What is Joe hiding about the treasure? When disaster strikes, and the treasure is stolen, will Ruth and Joe be able to work together to find both stolen and hidden treasure, and save both their homes?
This is such a cleverly layered mystery that completely engrossed me as I pieced together clues and followed the twists and turns with bated breath to discover the truth behind the farm’s treasures. There is a real sense of urgency as time runs out, and Ruth and Joe race to find the truth behind the treasure. It is never entirely clear who is a help and who is a hindrance, so characters’ motives really kept me guessing! I loved that this wasn’t just a mystery about buried treasure, but also a mystery about the secrets which people bury and keep from each other. I found the unravelling of these secrets both tender and poignant, and filled with hope for the future.
Ruth is an incredibly sympathetic young girl who is naturally curious, kind-hearted and determined. She is also impulsive and, in her eagerness to find answers, doesn’t always make the best choices, but does take responsibility for her choices, which makes her even more likeable and ‘real’. She is able to empathise with Joe which helps them develop a firm friendship, where they really open up to each other, which I really enjoyed seeing grow throughout the story.
This is a story of family, of friendship, of secrets and of change. I enjoyed the parallels between the experiences of both families in post-war Britain despite one living in London and the other on an isolated farm in the Fens. They have lived through a War that has deeply affected their families and are living under the continued restrictions after it; both have financial difficulties; they have dealt with loss or separation; and they are living through a period of change such as the infancy of the NHS, the beginnings of supermarkets and the modernisation of farm machinery.
Delve into The Secret of the Treasure Keepers to be guaranteed a treasure trove of intrigue, adventure and excitement, perfect for readers of 9+.
Thank you to Fritha Lindqvist and Usborne for an early copy in exchange for my honest opinion.