In this middle-grade debut novel, a young boy and several ghosts hope to clear the name of a disgraced ancestor.
Ten-year-old Jeremiah Morris lives in Manhattan with his parents; 13-year-old sister, Susanne; and their nanny, Phoebe. When summer vacation from school begins, the family flies to England to visit Papa and Nana, also known as the Earl and Countess Poppycock. While exploring the attic of the grand Poppycock estate, Jeremiah finds a trunk with a key in its lock. As he turns the key, a voice calls out, “Don’t be intrusive!” Soon, a vapor rises from the trunk, and he’s greeted by the ghost of his “nine-greats-grandmother—great said nine times,” Leila Wadsworth, who died in 1752. She relates the story of her son, Edgar, who was wrongfully hanged for a murder that someone else committed in 1744. St. Peter himself has ordered that Leila; her husband, Mortimer; and numerous other spectral members of the Wadsworth clan work to clear Edgar’s name. Leila recruits Jeremiah and Susanne and even invites the boy to travel back in time with her and Mortimer to 1744, the year the victim, Walter Johnson, lost his life. But the killer is also capable of using the Wadsworths’ ghostly status to the utmost advantage. For his tale, Foxton chases a historical mystery with the clear, logical thinking of a child. The first five chapters actually happen in New York, when Jeremiah is 7 and Papa visits. The earl spoils his grandchildren, and the author teaches his audience lots of facts, including a detailed origin story for the Statue of Liberty. The narrative’s tone captures the unintentionally wry ways children speak, as when Jeremiah says of his airplane ride: “Cabin staff serve a meal. It tastes good mostly because I am hungry.” When Foxton’s characters reach the past, he highlights the 18th century’s most noticeable traits: Nobody bathes, and servants are nonentities. And yet Clive, Leila’s servant, says of his love of learning: “I try to better myself even though I am dead.” The author delights in spinning a yarn but enjoys just as much rendering a transporting period piece.
A lively and learned time-travel tale.