The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries: The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse

Written by Caroline Lawrence
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Virginia City, U.S.A., 1862. Twelve-year-old P.K. Pinkerton, Virginia City’s youngest private eye, has just taken on his first case. He must find the killer of good-time girl, Sally Sampson, before the murderer kills the only witness to the crime, Sally’s terrified, ten-year-old black maid, Martha. And Martha has gone to ground.

P.K. is an unusual and immensely engaging hero. He was brought up by loving but strict foster-parents: he doesn’t drink or gamble and he goes to chapel on Sundays. He’s also a loner, hates being touched and he can’t easily recognize emotion. On the other hand, he has a passion for collecting (he has over a hundred examples of different sorts of tobacco), which could prove useful, and he’s brave, truthful, tenacious and ingenious.

There is something about P.K.’s straightforwardness and turns of speech which reminds me of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, though I rather doubt that Huck would share P.K’s views on the importance of going to chapel on Sunday. It’s a nice touch that Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) appears in the book as a hack journalist.

The first person narrative allows Caroline Lawrence to get right inside P.K’s head and show us how his mind works. And very well she does it, too. She demonstrates P. K’s autistic traits without ever making the reader feel that she is labelling him as a character with learning difficulties. I love the way she captures the feel of a frontier mining town: the near lawlessness, the gun battles, the harshness of living life on the edge. It’s a terrific read and I galloped through it at break-neck speed. I then re-read it to relish it.

The P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries are, plainly, exactly the right vehicle for Caroline Lawrence’s talents. Children of 10+ will love it.