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Book Review: Beatrice Beecham’s Cryptic Crypt by Dave Jeffery

“Jeffery has delivered a heroine and a book worthy of sharing the shelf with the Famous Five, Nancy Drew and the very best that the contemporary YA field has to offer.”

The author of several novels and short story collections, Dave Jeffery is possibly best known for his bestselling Necropolis Rising series. But the hugely successful zombie books were not his first work of fiction to be published. That honour lies with the first in his Beatrice Beecham YA mystery series, Fearsome Feast. Wanting to write a story with a strong young heroine that young readers could relate to, and drawing on inspiration from his own experiences reading Nancy Drew and Famous Five stories as a young boy, he created Beatrice Beecham and then put her in the kind of exciting stories he liked to read. Here we take a look at Beatrice’s fourth adventure in the series.

Jeffery begins the story with a scene in Vienna, Austria during the Nazi occupation in 1941. Here we meet a Jewish locksmith who has been commissioned by the local SS commander, Fleischer, to design and build three mysterious and unique locks. Fleischer maybe working autonomously of Hitler and the Nazi Hierarchy, but it makes his plans and his actions no less sinister. Perhaps more sinister, given the lengths to which he goes to keep his plans secret. Given the identity of the two characters as “Nazi” and “Jew” it would have been easy for Jeffery to “phone it in” with regards to this scene. But he does no such thing, giving each character and the scene a level of attention to detail that will prove to be exemplary of his style and expertise.

We are then transported to present day Dorsal Finn, the coastal town that serves as the setting for each of the books in the Beatrice Beecham series thus far. But it is no ordinary English seaside town. There is something very strange, and very wrong, with Dorsal Finn. And it seems to go much deeper than a rotten element among the populace or a certain bad area. Indeed, the vast majority of the local population are extremely friendly and extremely charming, despite the underlying feeling of unease that seems to crawl up out of the earth to haunt the citizens from time to time. Jeffery seems to treat he town as a separate character, giving it equal-billing with his main characters.

The star of the book is, of course, Beatrice Beecham, an inquisitive and intelligent 15-year-old with a knack for cooking and solving mysteries, the latter proving to be a common occurrence since her family moved to the town when she was twelve. Along with her friends, Patience, Lucas and Elmo, they are known collectively as The Newshounds (think Scooby Doo, with more realistic characters and some teenage angst instead of a Great Dane). They have a reputation for solving the mysteries of their small town while on adventures, something that has brought admiration and notoriety in equal measures. Some of the townspeople (such as elderly librarian Agnes and reclusive hoarder Miller) see The Newshounds as good kids while others (mayor Gideon Codd and local gossip Edna Duffy) saw them as troublemakers.

They are once again given the opportunity to flex their mystery-solving muscles with the arrival of the mysterious Logan Frobisher and his Blue Thunder Foundation, a charitable organisation that takes wayward youths and kids who wish to fulfil their civic duties and moulds them into productive and helpful members of their communities. But all is not as it seems with the Blue Thunder Foundation, and their arrival leads to Beatrice Beecham’s most dangerous adventure yet, one which could have dire consequences, not just for Beatrice, her friends and the town of Dorsal Finn, but for the world. There is an entity which lies beneath, awaiting its opportunity to strike out at humanity, and there are those in Dorsal Finn who would see it happen. Are Beatrice and her friends strong enough to stop the impending doom?

The story begins at a comfortable pace as we are introduced to the main players before Jeffery ratchets up the tension and we find ourselves barrelling along at break-neck speed towards a thrilling and exhilarating finale. Despite being the fourth book in the Beatrice Beecham series, it is not essential that readers have knowledge of the events in the previous books, as Jeffery does a fine job of subtly mixing the relevant details of the previous storylines throughout the book without taking the reader out of the moment. There are also elements of romance, as it is revealed that one of the Newshounds has feelings for Beatrice. But this is further complicated by Marcus, a Group Leader within the Blue Thunder Foundation, who seemingly shares Beatrice’s love of cooking and proves to be quite the charmer. Jeffery infuses moments of light-hearted levity in the story with the elderly, yet young-at-heart, Maud and Agnes, as well as the interaction between the members of The Newshounds before the trouble really begins. Not to mention the cameos by famous TV chefs as Beatrice’s Culinary Council, led by Jamie Oliver, who Beatrice uses as an interface with her own psyche in times of personal anguish. This one element may seem a little unusual to some readers, but these scenes do offer a brief respite from some of the heavier stuff, especially when Jeffery describes what the other chefs are doing while Jamie counsels Beatrice. And the true nature of the Culinary Council is revealed later in the story.

Jeffery also manages to raise a couple of important issues through his characters without being too heavy-handed. In Emily Hannigan, the deaf daughter of the new headmaster, Jeffery introduces a strong and loyal new friend of The Newshounds, while also exploring the difficulties and intolerance many deaf people still face in our society. Also, in using the Nazi character in the prologue and exploring the fascist nature of the antagonists later in the story, Jeffery delivers a very moralistic tale, showing that, although there are always some very bad people in our world, as long as we stand up for what is right, and stand together, good will overcome evil.

The Beatrice Beecham series seems to be going from strength to strength, with Cryptic Crypt a fine addition to the series, and to the Young Adult field in general. First and foremost, it is a suspenseful mystery, with elements of horror and supernatural mixed into Jeffery’s recipe. While it may be aimed at younger readers, it contains ingredients that would also appeal to readers of all ages; a relatable and endearing protagonist, a supporting cast of likeable and quirky good guys and wretched but believable bad guys, a thrilling story, and plenty of action and beautiful language. Jeffery has delivered a heroine and a book worthy of sharing the shelf with the Famous Five, Nancy Drew and the very best that the contemporary YA field has to offer.

THOMAS JOYCE

Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing
Paperback: (414pp)
Release Date: 3 February 2017

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