The Mystery of the Man with the Black Beard by Gillian Cross

First question – is that children’s authorian legend Philip Ardagh on the front cover?

Publisher: Barrington Stoke ISBN: 9781781123591 Published: 4/3/2014 RA 8, IA 8-12

With her dad working as a private investigator, Annie is used to random strangers turning up at equally random hours of the day and night. However after a whole bunch turn up one after another one day, Annie is left with a mystery of her own – her dad has disappeared! This is no ordinary mystery though. Her dad hasn’t just gone out to work on a case and Annie is soon enlisting the help of her two best friends Matt and Ruth to help her track down her missing parent…

I hate bubble gum and chewing gum. I tried it when I was younger since all my friends had it and it got offered round regularly. I never got the point of it though – flavour that only lasts 30 seconds and then it’s just something you have to keep chewing, all rubbery and slick – blech! So I have to admit that as I read along and the story’s main clue turned out to be chewing gum… well, I’ve got to admit I did sniggered a little self-satisfied snigger to myself!

The whole story had a little bit of a Famous Five vibe to it for me. I think it was the slightly old fashioned names that did it (not that there’s anything wrong with Annie, Ruth or Matt, no fear all of you out there with matching names!). The way the three friends all dash off madly on their bikes to follow the trail of clues was also more than a little Famous Five-esque. This can only work in the book’s favour really though – I mean, if the Famous Five is still keeping kids reading however many decades later, it’s obviously a vibe that works!

I have to say that the publishers have given this an interest age of 8-12 years but I personally think it would appeal more to slightly younger children really, about the 7-8 mark. It’s a very simple mystery story and I think an upper primary school age child would see through to the ending quite quickly. Then again, I’m not in publishing for a reason, so take this with a pinch of salt!

All told an engaging story with a (for me) very satisfying clue to the kidnapper’s identity.

Find The Mystery of the Man with the Black Beard here.




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