The crew of the Titanic may not have had a knack for navigation, but Lindsay Littleson, whose latest children’s novel centres on the disaster, is a master at it.
Her stories may tackle challenging, often emotive, topics, but she lights a way through with such clarity and compassion that you finish enriched by the journey – no matter how tumultuous it has been.
The Titanic Detective Agency is the story of Bertha Watt, a twelve-year-old Aberdonian who endears herself to us from the outset with her bold attitude and self-consciousness about her teeth.
Bertha’s greatest initial concern is how she will pass the trip, confined in the company of adults – but she soon finds a friend, Madge, and a pastime, a ‘detective agency’ game, in which the girls investigate the suspicious behaviour of fellow passengers.
What starts as a bit of fun, becomes more serious when Bertha meets Johan, a homesick Swedish teenager, whose third class status ensures that his experience is starkly different from hers. Johan doesn’t have time for games, but he does have a map, and hope that Bertha can help him to unlock a brighter future.
As an adult reading this story, you know that disaster is looming, and it is foreshadowed – particularly in an eerie tea-leaf reading scene – from early on, but somehow you become so wrapped up in Bertha and Johan’s adventure, that you still feel shock when it strikes.
The author weaves a myriad of accurate details about the Titanic through the story, featuring real people, events and locations. A highlight was the recreation of a game of football young passengers played, shortly after the crash, using chunks of shattered ice on the deck – the high jinks are agonising, when you know what fate has in store.
This story may not have a clear hero (although Bertha’s mother is great!) but it is all the stronger for that. Because the characters feel so real, we share their fear and confusion, and appreciate the flashes of bravery and compassion all the more.
We have been impressed with all of Lindsay Littleson’s books (here are our reviews of A Pattern of Secrets and Guardians of the Wild Unicorns) and The Titanic Detective Agency is exceptional. It is an eye-opening and accurate introduction to an important historical event, but it is also a cracking, enjoyable read.
The Titanic Detective Agency, by Lindsay Littleson (Cranachan)
- Read our Seven Stories Q&A to find out more about Lindsay Littleson, her favourite books and why she loves libraries
- Because we received a review copy of this book, we have made a donation of £6.99 to Mary’s Meals, so a hungry child will receive a meal a day in school for six months. Read here to find out how this works.