The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow
On her own after the death of her father, 14-year-old Sophie Taylor feels lucky to have secured a job as a shop girl at the new Sinclair’s Department Store in Piccadilly. The night before the grand opening of Sinclair’s, the store’s exhibition room is robbed. One employee is shot and many valuables are stolen, including the owner’s priceless clockwork sparrow. Having returned to the store after her shift to pick up some laundry she’d forgotten, Sophie is seen gazing at the sparrow and becomes a suspect. Sophie and her friends, Lil, a department store mannequin and wannabe actress, and Billy, an apprentice porter and reader of detective stories, hunt for clues to exonerate Sophie. Billy’s code-breaking knowledge comes in handy, as does Lil’s talent as an actress. They befriend Joe, a former member of the East End gang known as the “Baron’s Boys” who knows about London’s criminal underworld.
Sophie is a courageous heroine, and Lil and Billy are plucky, lovable sidekicks. The glamor of the fictional Sinclair’s department store is beautifully presented, as are other setting details, bringing to life early 1900s London, when large department stores were new and exciting. I especially like the short description and illustration of a hat at the beginning of each section (Sophie works in the millinery department). The plot rolls along at a good pace, our teenage detectives finding themselves in one difficult situation after another. Although the mystery is solved at the end, the head villain gets away, making possible the next books in this series. Note: This is not a steampunk story; although the clockwork sparrow is unusual, it is not a steampunk machine. Recommended.