Tom Scatterhorn's father has disappeared after developing an obsession with insects. He's gone abroad and no one knows where he is until a postcard arrives from Mongolia. Tom's mother promptly sets off to look for him leaving eleven year old Tom with his Uncle Jos and Aunt Melba. They are the proprietors of the Scatterhorn museum, a large, ramshackle, barn of a place housing many curiosities but primarily a collection of very realistic stuffed animals.
The Scatterhorns have had an ongoing, centuries old, feud with the Catchers, a family who inhabit Catcher Hall, across the valley. Apart from one period in Victorian times when taxidermist and scientist, August Catcher, was very friendly with Henry Scatterhorn, a 'daring-do', hunter/explorer type. Together they were the founders of the museum. But now Catcher Hall is empty and the museum is falling into disrepair. Onto the scene appears Don Gervase Askery and his daughter, Lotus, who claim to be long lost relatives of the Catchers. But are these two very odd individuals what they seem? And what is it they're searching for?
Tom, lonely and facing Christmas without his parents, begins an exploration of the museum. He soon discovers that all is not as it seems. One night, shocked to find a talking eagle in his bedroom, he's tricked into spending the night inside the museum. It seems that the eagle is not the only animal that can come alive... various talking specimens include a mammoth, a dodo, a snake, a troupe of bible-bashing mice and a very large tiger.
Tom's conversation with the animals is interrupted by two policemen who think the museum is being burgled. They give chase and the boy takes refuge in a travel-chest full of rags, stored in a cupboard. He burrows deep into the rags and finds himself falling... right smack into Victorian times where two of the first people he meets are Henry Scatterhorn and August Catcher. And, to his dismay and horror, Don Gervase Ackery and his daughter. Can things possibly get any weirder? Well yes as a matter of fact they can... and Tom's adventures are only just beginning.
Well, I have absolutely no trouble seeing why my grandaughter loved this one. I suppose one would have to say that the idea of animals coming to life in a museum is not exactly original - the movie, A Night at the Museum, springs to mind of course. But that's about the only similarity betwixt movie and book, as the story here is very different. This is a pacey, time-travelling yarn, which is more of a 'boy's own' adventure, inhabited by some quite gothicky villains and mad scientist inventor types. It's highly imaginative and nicely historical too with it's Victorian settings and even a trip to the India of the Raj. It also keeps you guessing. The author gives little away about the origins of the villains or in fact what is going on at all; the reader is just as confused as Tom, but it's an awful lot of fun guessing!
A cracking good read, to be honest, appealing, I would think, to both boys and girls of, say, nine to fifteen, and grannies like me who love a good, well written, YA adventure yarn. Book two of the series, The Hidden World is already out and book three is out this year I believe. Yes, I will be reading them...