Author Vivian French is well-known for her fantastic characterisation and this book is certainly no exception. As the book begins, we are immediately thrown into the hot and steamy Victorian home of Minnie O’Sullivan, as she ‘helps’ her mother with her laundry business. Minnie’s life, along with her family, is a tough one, with money scarce and not always enough food to feed them all. After an incident with an item of laundry, Minnie’s fiery temper gets her into further trouble and she finds herself whisked away to Haddington Hall, a hideous place posing as a home for wayward girls, run by the heartless Mrs Haddington.
Poor Minnie is tricked into leaving her home and forced to work in terrible conditions, but she never loses her spark (or her temper!) and with the help of her loyal friends, manages to get away from the Hall, plus eventually solve a crime that has affected many hapless victims across the country.
The social gap between the haves and have-nots is always apparent, but is bridged wonderfully as friendships flourish thanks to Minnie’s bravery and warm personality.
If this book was a pantomime, we would be booing and hissing at both the ruthless, self-serving Mrs Haddington and the evil trickster Reverend Obediah Marpike. I found myself eagerly anticipating their hopeful demise, but was kept guessing right up to the end, with the many plot twists and turns.
The wonderfully named characters in this book simply leap off the page and pull you into their fast-paced world to cheer them on.
This would be a fantastically fun book to read as a class, who can relish its array of colourful characters, but it is also a very enjoyable solo read, with a comfortably satisfying ending for Minnie and her friends.