"The Secret of the Dark Waterfall" by Alexander McCall Smith is a thoroughly enjoyable adventure story for children.
The School Ship Tobermory and its intrepid young crew are back in Hebridean waters for the fourth in the author's series. They visit the remote island of St Kilda, where the museum holds a fisherman's journal written a hundred years ago. It talks of the wreck in a sea loch of a Viking ship crammed with treasure. The SS Tobermory returns to the mainland in search of the lost wreck. Before long, however, Ben and Fee MacTavish and their friends realize they are not the only ones searching for the treasure. They must face a ruthless and determined adversary who will stop at nothing to seize the prize.
Alexander McCall Smith's School Ship Tobermory series has proved very successful, and it is easy to see why. The fourth instalment sees Ben's friendship with Badger hit troubled waters as Badger inexplicably takes up with Flubber, Shark and Hardtack. At the same time, Ben's new cabinmate Rory Quinn may have something to hide.
When you get to a certain age - considerably older than the target audience for this book, we suspect - you tend to assess and analyse books in terms of others they remind you of. The School Ship Tobermory series certainly invites comparisons with Arthur Ransome's "Swallows and Amazons" series, though it lacks some of the latter's occasional real darkness and sense of jeopardy. Here we are in a gentler (and contemporary) world where you are never really in any doubt that the forces of good will prevail. Another resonance for us was with Enid Blyton's "Famous Five" series.
My nine-year-old grandson was brought up on Ransome, and on Harry Potter and Star War, both genres that also in places offer real darkness. I suspect that he'll enjoy having the chance to read "The Secret of the Dark Waterfall" for himself as something a little lighter in tone.