Horton Halfpott, or The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor, or The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset, written and illustrated by Tom Angleberger published in 2011 by Amulet Books
“There are so many exciting things in this book — a Stolen Diamond, snooping stable boys, a famous detective, the disappearance of a Valuable Wig, love, pickle eclairs, unbridled Evil, and the Black Deeds of Shipless Pirates — that it really does seem a shame to begin with ladies’ underwear.“
Thus begins this madcap romp, this loopy tale, this mash-up of Roald Dahl meets Downton Abbey with a hearty splash of Agatha Christie.
The hero of our story, Horton Halfpott, is a lowly kitchen boy in Smugwick Manor. All the servants in this estate walk on eggshells to avoid crossing M’Lady Luggertuck, a most particular, pinchy sort of person.
But one day, for unknown reasons, M’Lady Luggertuck asks her maid, Old Crotty, not to yank quite so tightly on the corset strings, and this flabbergasting loosening up spills over, wafts through the entire manor! Suddenly, a new breath of air seems to usher in all manner of unexpected upheaval in the lives of both Luggertucks and staff.
As mentioned — this includes stolen baubles, a visit from a famous detective, and a horde of pirates. It also involves one exceptionally grounded, lovely, whipsmart gal named Celia, who is a dandy heroine.
Outstanding pacing, off-the-wall humor, dastardly villains and magnificent good guys, an over-the-top cast, adventure, mystery, a pouf of romance…all these ingredients are crammed into this wonderfully, wacko story. It’s also illustrated with googly line drawings by the author that jack up the goofy-factor even more.
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and think it would make a smashing read-aloud for ages 7 and up. Independent readers have to manage a surprisingly robust vocabulary.