Russell (Montana in A Manor, 2014, etc.) offers another YA mystery featuring skateboarding trouble-magnet Martin McMillan.
Only a month after their adventure in Thailand in Martin McMillan and the Secret of the Ruby Elephant (2012), 13-year-old Martin and his friend Isabel find themselves visiting Scotland. There, Isabel’s father, University of California, Berkeley, lecturer James Hoffman, and his girlfriend, Moira MacDonald, are researching her recently unearthed family documents. Moira writes historical novels, so getting these documents translated from Gaelic to English by professor Duncan of Edinburgh University would be a boon to her work. As the group discusses the work in a tea room, a pair of strangers sitting nearby rudely snaps a photo of the documents. Later, as Martin and Isabel tour Scotland’s castles and the infamous Loch Ness, they again see the same young man and woman. Martin, whose archaeologist parents back in Chicago want him to stay out of trouble, is happy just to skateboard and search for the Loch Ness monster, but Isabel is determined to follow a trail of clues that eventually points toward the secret knowledge of the ancient Druids. Author Russell’s latest is the most finely tuned entry in the Martin McMillan series yet. In it, she presents readers with historical facts that also provide dramatic context; for example, Moira learns that her ancestors were dispossessed by the English “clearances” of the 18th century, in which Scottish clans were evicted from their Highland properties. Throughout, Martin and Isabel’s banter is snarky and a joy to read; when she says, “We’ll be fine. Trust me,” he replies, “How many times have I heard you say that before?” Indeed, as fun as Martin’s adventures are, hints of Russell’s formula are sometimes evident; in this installment, for example, the Scottish terrier Macbeth follows a trail of cookies, and in the last book, a monkey followed a trail of bananas. The author nevertheless conjures Scotland’s mystique, which emboldens her narrative.
New fans and old will be glad that Martin can’t stay out of trouble.