This brilliant book brings together rich literary traditions into a wonderful middle grade novel full of magic, suspense and quite a bit of confuddlement!
The ‘trapped with a killer’ whodunnit suspense of Agatha Christie, set with a perilous magical context and a little of the madcap antics or characters of the film Clue! makes this an entertaining romp even when it turns serious.
The story originally won The Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition 2016 and I was delighted to discover she’s an Oxfordshire based author and the former owner of one of my favourite independent bookshops Mostly Books in Abingdon.
Seth Seppi has been trapped at The Last Chance Hotel for most of his life, he doesn’t remember his mother and his father who was the chef disappeared years ago with the nasty proprietors The Bunns letting him stay on ‘out of the kindness of their hearts’ of course that involves being general washpot and skivvy constantly tortured by their repugnant daughter Tiffany.
One day a group of mysterious people descend upon the Hotel for a special meeting and dinner behind locked doors. Seth soon discovers they are magicians including the kindly Dr Thallomius whom turns out to be poisoned by the specially prepared dessert.
Seth is the main suspect but he didn’t do it! As a murder investigation ensues Seth finds out there is more to the hotel and grounds than he could ever have imagined…
He followed, reminding himself he had to focus on one important thing here- convincing everyone he had not killed Dr Thallomius.
The scenario comes from a rich tradition but thanks to the current golden age of literature we don’t have to baby down the plot and the suspense, and Nicki Thornton does a great job of adding layer upon layer of mystery and slowly peeling each back at just the right moment to reveal the heart of the story.
The characters are similarly closely woven with little nuggets and tastes of hints along with plenty of red herrings to keep one pondering throughout, even if you guess the murderer you will then certainly be wrestling with the how and why.
Although enjoyable at older and much older ages, it is perfectly pitched at the middle of Middle grade bracket, it’s short enough to be accessible, the language is rich but not too flowery or unnecessarily polysyllabic for syllables sake.
There’s lovely themes about perseverance and trusting oneself whilst the pacing is perfect to drive you forward maddened with wanting to know the outcome but not too fast as to make you get tangled and miss out on the actual plot. There’s plenty of places to pause and process from Seth in the cupboard to sitting on his bed before we move forward again which is great for the reader developing in confidence.
I’m super impressed by this novel and so glad that a little accident brought me back to it! I’m very much looking forward to more adventures within this world and to the opening up of Seth’s past and the world of The Last Chance Hotel.
The Last Chance Hotel by Nicki Thornton published by Chicken House is available from bookshops and online.