The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
By Katherine Woodfine
Published by Egmont
ISBN 978 1 4052 7617 7
The world's great department stores - Harrods and Selfridges in London, Bloomingdale's and Macy's in New York, Printemps in Paris - had their heyday at the turn of the 20th century. They were grand and opulent cathedrals of retail. No one just rushed in, grabbed something, paid and rushed out again. Shopping was an elegant experience to be done in your best outfits, and grand department stores reflected this.
Thick carpets covered the floors, chandeliers hung from the ceilings and orchestras played soothing music on sweeping staircases that carried shoppers to paradise.
Katherine Woodfine's first novel The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow is set at Sinclair's, a fictional store in London. Shopping has certainly changed its image since the days when the department store was at its prime, but Woodfine has done a lot of research and expertly recreates that sumptuous world. She also throws in a couple of strong central characters and an intriguing mystery.
Sinclair's is about to open, and its owner intends it to be the talk of the town, attracting only the richest, most chic shoppers in the capital. Sophie Taylor, a young orphan, has been very fortunate to get a job as a sales girl in the hat department.
But on the eve of the grand opening, thieves break in and steal a valuable clockwork bird encrusted with jewels. The police and the owner think that it was an inside job. But why was this particular piece taken? Is the clockwork sparrow more than it seems?
When suspicion falls on poor Sophie, she and her best friend Lil, and a couple of male hangers-on, spring into action to clear her name and ferret out the real criminals.
It takes the mystery aspect a while to get going because the author adores Sinclair's, and wants to make sure her readers fall in love with it, too. Woodfine's writing is brilliantly descriptive, cleverly creating every aspect of the setting for readers to experience and enjoy.
But this comes at the price of plot. This novel is a mystery in the grand tradition, but there are some holes in logic as Sophie and her friends race around to find an infamous criminal gang, crack codes and generally run rings round the police as they solve the crime.
But it doesn't matter if you guess "whodunnit" halfway through: this visit to Sinclair's is a delight.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com