This book is a joy to hold as a great deal of care has gone into its production, and even more of a joy to read. Joan Lingard has a stellar reputation and the moment you start reading the door closes and you are in the story.
Set in Edinburgh, partly in the modern day and partly 1796, it tells of siblings Will and Lucy/William and Louisa whose experiences are similar. One day their fathers disappear. Both are loving husbands and fathers, but with little grasp of finance they have build up huge debts. Will and Lucy have no idea where their father has gone and he left no message, but they discover he owes £50,000. William and Louisa’s father owes money to all the tradesmen but at least they do discover where he is. At that time there was safe haven of Sanctuary in the abbey and grounds of Holyrood Palace, and people were allowed out between midnight Saturday and midnight Sunday without fear of being chased by their debtors. Their father takes refuge there although he does a menial job which they have to hide from their mother.
Will and Lucy discover the diary kept by William and his sister during the time of their father’s disappearance and learn of the sign of the Black Dagger which they eventually find out alludes to a plot to capture the recently-arrived Comte D’Artois, brother of Louis VI who had been killed three years before and who is staying in Holyrood Palace. Reading the diary makes Will and Lucy realise they have to find out the secret of the Black Dagger in order to find out what happened to their father. The link between the two families is revealed and both fathers find a similar route out of debt.
In Joan Lingard’s hands this story moves seamlessly between the two periods of history, helped by the part the city of Edinburgh plays in the events. This is a straightforward adventure story but the pattern of events, repeated two centuries apart, is beautifully written. The book has been produced by Kelpies, who ran a competition for the cover. There are lamps at the bottom of each page and decoration for each chapter head – and there is a map! The device by which Will and Lucy find out about William and Louisa is clever and credible, and the historical events of 1796 are clearly explained within the confines of the story. The mist and the cold swirl around the two sets of children adding atmosphere and chill to their predicament. The two mothers are quite different: Will and Lucy’s mother is coping well, even with having to possibly identify her husband’s body; but William and Louisa’s mother is of her time, knowing nothing about money and having been indulged by her husband to the family’s detriment.