I was fortunate to stumble across "The Museum's Secret", the first book in The Remarkable Adventures of Tom Scatterhorn trilogy, on its first day in the shops. I'm a sucker for good packaging, and was hooked by the synopsis on the back cover:
Welcome to the Scatterhorn Museum! But don't get too excited - it's a cold and dingy place, crammed full of tatty stuffed animals and junk. Nobody much wants to visit any more, and its days are surely numbered. But when Tom is sent to live here he soon finds there is more to this museum than meets the eye. The animals may be shabby and moth-eaten - but they possess an incredible secret. And when Tom discovers he can go right back to the time of their making, a hundred years earlier, he embarks on a journey full of unimaginable terrors... Join Tom in his breathtaking adventure in and out of time, from an Edwardian ice fair to the wastes of Mongolia, the jungles of India, and beyond....
Point one: it is set in a museum. In my opinion museums are magical places, along with art galleries and libraries, so any book that makes promises like this will immediately have me reaching for my wallet.
Point two: time travel (need I say more?)
Point three: the promise of adventure in exotic locations.
Unfortunately, there have been many times when an impulse purchase of a book, based only on the cover design and the blurb, has resulted in disappointment. However, with 100% conviction I can say I was not at all disappointed with this book. The opening chapter is a killer with the description of a river of predatory beetles enough to get any boy slavering for more.
It isn't long after this that we meet Tom who has been shipped off to stay with his Aunt and Uncle for the holidays. Yes, we've seen this before so many times, and yes the characterisation of Tom's eccentric Uncle and Aunt are fairly sterotypical, but it is the museum that is the stand-out creation of this book. If you liked the film 'Night At The Museum' then there is a good chance that you will like this book. I remember many a visit to the Warwick Museum as a child, awestruck by the fantastic, huge stuffed Warwickshire Bear just inside the entrance, always wondering what it would be like to be locked in the museum at night and whether the various animals came to life. Henry Chancellor has captured my childhood fantasy perfectly with his descriptions of magical taxidermy.
The book isn't short on adventure either. Tom finds himself whisked away through time where he meets the creator of the museum's magical stuffed animals and experiences the fantasy of an Edwardian icefair, a place brought alive by the author's vivid descriptions of the smells and sounds that Tom encounters.
Villains? They will not disappoint you either. Don Gervase Askary and his creepy, emerald-eyed daughter Lotus ooze menace whenever they appear in the narrative. I won't say any more about these two as I would hate to spoil the surprises in store.
It would appear that all the reviewers on Amazon agree with me. However, the book is not without its faults. The plot twists are a little convoluted in places, and the author's habit of whisking Tom away to places like India for only a few chapters could be a little confusing to less-focused readers. Henry Chancellor also causes the story to drag in a number of places through his excessive descriptive writing and some readers may find these passages a little boring; but please persevere as the book is rammed full of exciting moments of action and hair-raising adventure and if you are anything like me you will be left hungry for the sequel by the time you get to the final page.