The Mabel Hartley Trio. A Labour of Love

Susan Yates

Book Review

Tuesday, December 13 2016

The trio refers to the 3 best friends who star in Jane Reddington’s series written for children and teens (age 9 to 14): Mabel Hartley, Tabitha Mason (Tabby) and Hugh McGinley. They are irrepressibly curious, adventurous, loyal (to each other), and oh so typically adolescent, despite the brakes put on by their (mostly) attentive parents.

The trio could also refer to the first three books in a planned series of five, the time span of which will see the youngsters develop from unstoppable 14 years olds to young adults. The novels are immediately engaging and eager readers will likely race through the first three: A Sapphire Moon, The Mummy’s Cape, and The Crusader’s Hoard, and be chomping at the bit for Jane Reddington to publish the next adventure. 

By then, fans will know the books’ protagonists as well as I used to know Nancy Drew and her co-conspirators and the Hardy Boys (which I devoured and traded with my pals).

Mabel, Tabby and Hugh are three adventurers who excel at teamwork, appreciate each others’ skills, and are good at solving mysteries and braving dangerous encounters. With the help of world-traveling parents, they enact their camaraderie and sleuthing in unusually interesting places, which is why I found the settings so intriguing in Reddington’s novels.

A Sapphire Moon takes place at an elite boarding school in the south of England, where Mabel Hartley has just enrolled 6 weeks later than the official start of school, already one count against her being able to fit in to a place steeped in history with venerable traditions and staff. But she is quickly drawn in to an investigation of stolen art that her father, a police commissioner, believes is connected to Mabel’s new school.

Reddington delves into some fascinating aspects (biographical and geographical) of art history, drawing the reader in to the stories behind famous paintings and their creators. The title A Sapphire Moon hints at the art that the first books focuses on, and I loved this part of the story. I learned some poignant things about Marc Chagall that I either don’t remember or didn’t learn in Art History 101 and 102 (but that was in 1972 in Prince George...)

Book Two, The Mummy’s Cape, finds Mabel Hartley and her co-conspirator pals in an unusual location – Inverness, Scotland, near an ancient peat bog known to trap unwitting (or purposely dumped) victims and reveal them thousands of years later as leathery mummies. Mabel, Tabby and Hugh are a little older (and perhaps wiser, but still fearlessly adventurous) and their investigations of ancient ruins and archaeological treasures will draw readers quickly into The Mummy’s Cape.

I learned a lot about Bronze Age treasures, how they are found, stolen and illegally sold, and what sorts of artifacts are discovered when a peat bog reveals its sometimes gruesome holdings. And the treasure at the centre of this tale of discovery and intrigue is a marvel to contemplate – imagine a shriveled skeleton several thousand years old, lying next to a cape made of beaten gold made entirely from a single large ingot. And that’s only one of the fascinating finds that Mabel and her two pals learn about in The Mummy’s Cape.

In Book Two we also learn about the mystery behind Mabel’s first name – hinted at in A Sapphire Moon – it’s an ending worth not reading ahead for, because it’s a surprise attached to a lovely bit of history that’s sad and happy at the same time (but not gruesome like mummies in peat bogs!)

Book Three is The Crusader’s Hoard, which takes us to a place I know almost nothing about – Petra, the ‘red rose city of ancient Jordan’, and more specifically ArcheoJordan, a famous school for serious archeological pursuits. Learning about the geology, history, culture and politics of this area is a highlight in this book.

Mabel, Tabby and Hugh are now 16 and ready for some serious delving, literally and figuratively. Mysteries abound, danger too, as the trio faces attack from foes intent on keeping the teenagers from discovering treasure left by a crusading Templar knight. The real surprise comes when we discover who  wrote the 900 year old scrolls that describe relics hidden in a desperate attempt to save them from raiders.

The relationships between Mabel and her two best friends takes on deeper and more complicated meanings, as they discover romance in their lives, and there are hints of looming adulthood – always a draw for readers who want to follow their literary characters in a real life adventure as they find their way in the world.

The intended audience is 9 to 14 year olds. If they adopt Mabel Hartley, Tabitha Mason and Hugh McGinley the way I attached myself to literary characters my age 50 years ago, they will be racing through this series and eagerly awaiting the next installment.

At the library launch for the Mabel Hartley series, I learned that it took Jane Reddington 9 years to produce this literary labour of love, and it truly is. Reddington suffered severe post-partum depression after the birth of her second child 9 years ago, and almost unbelievably, she managed to write her way out of this debilitating state. I was truly awed by this feat, because I believe that writing is a lonely and isolating craft. Perhaps a small reward is to see young fans in the audience at your very first book launch, and know that they will want you to keep writing!

How beautiful and hopeful to think of three such uplifting and inspiring novels for young people being written despite such an overwhelming barrier. Now I know how Jane Reddington writes those inspiring newspaper essays that fly defiantly in the face of news that may seem hopeless to most of us. 

If you missed getting any or all of the Mabel Hartley books at the November 19 book launch, they await your purchase in the fine bookstore at Page’s Resort and Marina and North Road Sports.