11 year old Demelza, a red-haired orphan who lives with her Grandma Maeve, loves inventing gadgets, which sometimes means she gets into trouble, but she hadn’t expected the trouble that would ensue when she discovers that her family are spectre detectors: people who can, temporarily, bring a loved one back from the dead for a last meeting. There is a lot to learn when she becomes an apprentice to Grandma Maeve, not least the very strict rules about what may be done and how to keep safe. An unhappy school life with bullying twins and a fierce Headteacher who seems to hate her means that her home life is important, as is her friendship with Percy, a boy who has to stay at home and live on pills because of ‘his allergies and weak constitution’. Impulsive Demelza unintentionally reveals more than she should about what she is learning, danger looms and Grandma Maeve is captured. The price of her freedom could be Demelza’s own life, but Percy and unexpected allies help her to rescue Grandma and unmask the person attempting to make her use her powers for an illegal purpose. Her inventions do prove useful, particularly the robotic hand: ‘a miscellany of clock cogs, engine parts and kitchen utensils, all held together with blobs of solder and bits of sticky tape.’
Holly Rivers played the part of Drusilla Paddock, best friend of Mildred Hubble’s rival Ethel Hallow, in the original ITV adaptation of The Worst Witch, shown about 20 years ago, and has since, among other jobs, been a children’s storyteller. She also used to love inventing, and now runs drama and bushcraft workshops for children. This is her debut novel, but Barry Cunningham at Chicken House knows a good story when it lands on his desk, and this is an exciting page-turner which bodes well for Holly Rivers’ future as a children’s author.