The Museum’s Secret
Eleven-year-old Tom Scatterhorn has problems. His mother has gone to Mongolia to find his missing entomologist father, and Tom must stay with his eccentric uncle and aunt. They run the Sir Henry Scatterhorn Museum, founded in 1906, which displays animals stuffed by the famous taxidermist, August Catcher. The exhibits are moth-eaten and shabby now, but they hold an incredible secret – and one which the sinister Don Gervase Askary and his daughter Lotus would dearly like to know.
When Askary offers to buy the museum and its contents, Uncle Jos is delighted, but there’s something about Askary and Lotus which Tom doesn’t trust. Then, an accidental discovery propels him back in time a hundred years. He meets August Catcher and gets taken on as his assistant. He also meets Sir Henry himself, and is appalled to realize that Sir Henry’s young friend, Mina Quilt, is none other than Lotus in disguise – which must mean that Askary can time travel, too. Tom realizes that Askary and Lotus will stop at nothing to get their hands on August’s secret…
Quite what all this has to do with historical novels is debatable. Having said that, the book has a definite whiff of late 19th/early 20th-century adventure stories for boys: the sort of books which often have central roles for plucky chaps with titles (Rider Haggard’s Sir Henry Curtis; John Buchan’s Sir Edward Leithen, etc.). The time travel sections really do have a period flavour – Jules Verne meets Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger, perhaps. It’s exciting: the adults are splendidly eccentric, the villains truly horrible, and the pace is tremendous. It’s a terrific read. It grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and didn’t let me go until I’d finished it.
Children of 9 plus, particularly boys, should love it.