Why are there no penguins on Mastermind?

Moontrug has a very long list at home (not of ordinary things like food to buy at the supermarket or chores to do around the house) – she has a list of literary crushes (characters from books she thinks are cute). Particular highlights on the list are: Will Parry from Philip Pullman’s Subtle Knife, Will Potter from Emma Carroll’s Frost Hollow Hall and, of course, Sherlock Holmes from Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective stories. There is something seriously cool about a guy who can walk into a room and ‘know’ a person’s story before they’ve even opened their mouth. It got Moontrug thinking though – there are lots of books about male detectives (Sherlock Holmes, Wild Boy, Raphael in Trash) – so where are the ladiiiiieeeeesss?! Cue Rachel Hamilton’s seriously funny debut for 8-12 years, The Case of The Exploding Loo.

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Having engaged in a literary rap battle with Hamilton last month, Moontrug decided to delve inside the mystery of the exploding loo… Wacky scientist Professor Brian ‘Big Brain’ Hawkins has vanished in a portaloo explosion, leaving only his smoking shoes behind. His daughter, Noelle, has an IQ of 157 and a photographic memory (but is NOT a mutant freak, whatever her sister, Holly, says). She’s born a Sherlock and the perfect person to investigate. Sort of.

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Noelle, or Know-All as she’s called by most, narrates the story with suitable academic charm: ‘Our local police are not displaying the dedication to crime-fighting I’ve come to expect from watching CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on TV. They certainly don’t solve as many crimes.’ Her earnest determination to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance is often hilarious, particularly as Noelle has no idea that the local police find her repeated phone calls unbearably irritating: ‘Some of [PC Eric’s] fellow officers groan. Maybe they have food poisoning. I’ve heard bad things about police canteens.’

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Noelle is a truly original detective, full of Sherlockian brains and style: ‘I always travel around school at speed because a moving target is harder to hit’ and her diagrams to explain her thought processes are so funny. Check out Noelle’s pie chart showing the percentage of students supporting the most popular theories about what Ms Grimm, the Maths teacher, does when she’s not teaching Maths. Morgue attendant and Witch were Moontrug’s faves…

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But alongside Noelle’s quest to find out where her father is sits her relationship with her ‘explosive’ sister, Holly. Hamilton develops their relationship superbly as Noelle learns to appreciate her sister’s hands-on approach to solving the crime and Holly begins to understand that Noelle is less of a mutant freak than she had believed. Moontrug particularly liked watching Holly wield her chainsaw (that bit would be AMAZING as a film!) and the moment where Holly tries to teach Noelle to stand up to bullies:

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Noelle’s methodical way of thinking is both interesting and amusing: ‘Breakfast: herrings and green leafy vegetables because oily fish contains Omega-3 fatty acids that improve the performance of the brain cell membranes. So why are there no penguins on Mastermind?’ and the plot is full of twists and turns, facts and diagrams, clues and findings – perfect for inquisitive 8-12 year olds who like a bit of rule breaking. As Noelle’s friend, Porter, says, ‘Best time to break a rule is straight after you’ve been punished for the last one. No one suspects you’re still up to no good.’