THE BOY FROM U.N.C.L.E.: The Arctic Railway Assassin

Tell me it’s not true, Maya!

Say it isn’t so, Sam.

Et tu, Elisa . . . ?

There is a myth in the literary world that authors (and illustrators) are people, too, and that they must be allowed to go where their imagination and passion takes them. I think those who believe this are way out of line. Writers serve at the pleasure of their readers, and if we don’t get our way, we are allowed to stamp our feet and write angry blog posts about it. 

Let’s proceed with the stamping!

Five years ago, an award-winning author named Maya Leonard and her friend (who had the same first name as her husband Sam, the surname Sedgman, and who loved trains and crime fiction and wanted to write about both) decided to try writing something together. The idea of having a boy detective who rode about on trains throughout the world solving mysteries with the aid of a good brain and a talent for drawing came from the Maya’s sons, and soon the pair got cracking on a new series, Adventures on Trains. They picked up a third partner, the marvelous illustrator Elisa Paganelli, who during their association would draw over 250 gorgeous illustrations, each set specially designed for the case in question.

I have ridden the rails along with Harrison Beck and his beloved Uncle Nat Bradshaw, train travel journalist and – SPOILER ALERT! – former spy on five exciting mystery adventures. I was there when they exposed a jewel thief in Edinburgh, solved a kidnapping in the good ol’ USA, and cracked their first murder in South Africa. I rode several trains on their fourth adventure through the Balkan mountains to undo a family curse, and I headed Down Under to help them, er, watch them take down a deadly saboteur! 

At the end of each book, I’d sigh contentedly because the final page would announce a new adventure only months away. I figured that Hal and Uncle Nat and I were good for a few dozen more adventures. I looked it up, and I thought Sam and Maya would enjoy riding the Old Patagonian Express through Argentina, or India’s Golden Chariot, or Al Andalus in Spain, or – well, there are a lot of them out there, and if the authors were busy, I would be happy to take the ride and do the research for them!

But now it appears that Book #6, The Arctic Railway Assassin, which takes Hal and Nat from Stockholm to the Northern town of Narvik – if they can survive the trip!! – will be the final stop on this Adventure on Trains. I just got over losing Angela Lansbury, and now I’ve got to be bereft all over again!?!

Say it isn’t so, you guys!!!

At least, if Hal has to go, he goes out with a bang! This is the most thrilling and dangerous ride yet, and the stakes are the biggest yet. I will proceed carefully here, as I don’t want to give away any of the surprises in store. But you should be prepared that this does not follow the typical “whodunnit” formula of the previous adventures. Yes, there are twists galore, and there are issues of identity – there must be when one of your characters is an evil assassin called The Chameleon – but what really matters here is that Harrison and his uncle are on a mission to save the world. 

The world, people!

As usual, we are given a marvelous tour of a part of the globe that most of us may never see (but which a number of young readers might be inspired to explore.) Both Leonard and Sedgman actually took this trip up to the Arctic for research, and in their Afterward, they give us a few choice pieces of info on how that trip inspired their plot. 

The first half of the book sets up the high stakes of the situation and gives us a wonderful tour of the region and the train. A huge responsibility for the success of both lies in Paganelli’s as always wonderful illustrations, which this time allowed me to see something that it took Hal a while to spot – even though he himself had made the drawings! And while our sleuths have not one but two ultra-dangerous villains to deal with, that’s nothing compared to the spanner thrown into their works by the arrival of a surprise passenger. (How that works into the story turns out to be quite lovely.)

The final half of Arctic Railway might be the most fast-paced and thrilling section in the whole (too small if you ask me!) canon, and again, I think the less said about it, the better. And while nobody says “That’s the last Adventure on Trains for you, mister” to Hal, there’s a sense of finality at the end when this wonderful lad we have all come to know says, 

Sometimes adventures on trains are the best thing in the world, but sometimes it’s even better to be with friends and family, and for life to be calm and normal.

That is certainly true, and if this is the end, this child-at-heart wants to thank M.G., Sam, and Elisa for taking us around the world on a half dozen fantastic cases and giving us the opportunity to virtually experience Sam’s lifelong love of trains. But listen to me, you guys,  because I’ve got a scathingly brilliant idea:

Why don’t the three of you take a rest, work on those other projects you’ve all got brewing, and then come back together in a few years. By then, Ellie Beck will be eleven or twelve, and it will be time for her older brother, just hitting adulthood, to take her on her first real train adventure. Oh, sure, it’ll just be a vacation on the Orient Express, but that brutal man in the cabin next door is throwing his weight around in the worst manner, and those twelve other passengers are acting awfully suspicious. It’ll be up to Ellie now to solve the case, with her beloved brother at her side. 

Something new, right?

ADVENTURES IN TRAINS SERIES

  1. The Highland Falcon Thief (2020)
  2. Kidnap on the California Comet (2020)
  3. Murder on the Safari Star (2021
  4. Danger at Dead Man’s Pass (2021)
  5. Sabotage on the Solar Express (2022)
  6. The Arctic Railway Assassin (2022)

3 thoughts on “THE BOY FROM U.N.C.L.E.: The Arctic Railway Assassin

  1. Oh, wow. Like you, I’d assumed that the short gaps between publications indicated a creative team who were coming up with new ideas so fast that they barely had time to get them down on paper before their next plot bubbled up, and there must be loads more to come.

    Sad to hear this is probably the last, although I haven’t found any of the sequels to be quite as satisfying as Safari Star, as puzzles >> thrillers.

    Like

  2. I prefer the more mystery based books over 5 and 6. But it was nonetheless a fun read and the “surprise passenger” was a great character.

    My order (and I hope there will be more to come one day)

    1. Book 3
    2. Book 4
    3. Book 1
    4. Book 2 (here I guessed literally everything almost from the beginning, which is why it is a bit lower)
    5. Book 6
    6. Book 5

    But there’s no bad one among them.

    Like

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