It is 1910 and the orbit of Halley’s comet brings it close to the Earth, causing both alarm and excitement. Thus when Nancy’s mother announces that she is taking Nancy and her younger sister Violet to Suffolk to stay with the grandfather they have never met in order to help him view the comet Nancy feels trepidation. Why had they never been told they had a maternal grandfather and instead, until now, why had they been told he was dead? The mystery deepens when, on arrival at his house, they are forbidden to draw back the curtains or go outside: they must not be seen.
Nancy’s suspicions are further aroused when, late at night, she hears her mother and grandfather in the cupola, where a telescope is housed. As she eavesdrops she realises that they are looking at the prison and discussing a situation she does not understand. When she spots them one evening making a visit to the town jail carrying mysterious packages, she resolves to unravel the mystery. When her mother is arrested for the crime of arson on the Mayor’s house, a crime she did not commit, Nancy knows that courage and determination will be needed to bring the evil mayor to justice. This she does, with the help of Violet and their new friend Burch, whose father, like her grandfather, is at the mercy of the unscrupulous and power-hungry Mayor.
The narrative twists and turns, revealing clues and exposing problems along the way. However, there is never a plot thread overload, rather a weaving in of strands into the fabric of the emerging mystery. It is a story with a strong moral at its heart-that truth will out and goodness will prevail. This always brings a reader satisfaction and young readers will be especially gratified that justice is finally done and order restored thanks to Nancy, Violet and Burch.
There are extras at the back of the book: Howell’s explanation of the source of her inspiration behind the book and links to websites where readers can access photos of Halley’s comet; information about life in the Edwardian era, in which the story is set; footage of women protesting peacefully for the right to vote.