Monday, February 13, 2017

MMGM: The Night of the Comet

Today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday pick

The Night of the Comet,
from the Bostock and Harris series
The Night of the Comet
Written by Leon Garfield
Cover art by Gordon Crabb

First edition, Kestrel Books, 1979
First American edition, Delacorte Press, 1979
Reprint New York Review Books, 2014
Grades 4-8
149 pages,  940L

Comedy of Errors, historical fiction

"Love turns men into angels and women into devils. Take Cassidy, of Cassidy & O'Rourke, Slaters, Thatchers, General Roofers and Sundries. He was a liar, a rogue, and so light-fingered it was a wonder that, while he slept, his hands didn't rise to the ceiling of their own accord. Whenever there was a night without a moon, suspicion, naturally fell on Cassidy."

Like A Midsummer Night's Dream, cupids arrows go astray in this wacky historical comedy. The rogue, Cassidy, searches every town for his lost love Mary Flatley, but since "Cassidy had kissed the Blarney Stone...but by the squashed look of his nose, it must have been more of a collision than a kiss" he can't help sweet talking every lady he meets. No wonder she'd shut the door in his face a year ago.

Meanwhile our heroes, Harris and Bostock, are striking a deal. "They were friends and had been through thick and thin together, for which nature seemed to have formed them, Harris being thin and Bostock very thick." The lovesick Bostock will give Harris his father's brass telescope in exchange for Harris's help procuring the love of his sister, Mary Harris. Harris was, as in all things, an expert on courtship. In this case his expertise hailed from an article on mating rituals in the wild: displaying bright plumage, discharging scent, presentation of prey or stimulating objects, etc.

The trouble snowballs when Dorothy Harris is mistaken for her sister, Mary. Add in a jealous best friend, a music teacher, a young fish-monger, a magistrate, and a portentous comet, and you have the makings of romantic disaster.

Leon Garfield is largely unknown today, but he was a skilled writer whose complex plots and witty repartee have rightly been compared to Dickens's own. His books are most often historical, and usually swirled with supernatural elements. The only supernatural element in this novel is the astounding workings of Harris's scheming brain. The caricatures are hilarious, the word-play divine. The denouement rattles to a tidy conclusion worthy of the Bard. After all, Garfield spent a good deal of his life teaching and refashioning Shakespeare's plays for young people. Many of Garfield's books have been reprinted by New York Review Books in recent years; this one has been combined with its companion story The Strange Affair of Adelaide Harris in The Complete Bostock and Harris.

 1. If you enjoyed The Night of the Comet, I suggest all of Leon Garfield's other books. If I had to choose a favorite, I'd say the delightfully complex Smith or the chilling, The Empty Sleeve. And I loved the plot of Sound of Coaches.

The Puffin edition of Smith
Recommended by Eoin Colfer
The NYRB edition of Shakespeare Stories
Illustrated by Michael Foreman

2. For more comedic buddy books and MG romance, MMGM reviewers recommend The Whipping Boy, reviewed by Janet on Creative Writing in the Blackberry PatchA Match Made in High School, reviewed by Briana, The Book Pixie, or Me & Miranda Mullaly, reviewed by Aeicha on Word Spelunking.

The Whipping Boy,
by Sid Fleishman,
Cover by Dan Andreasen
A Match Made in High School,
 by Kristin Walker
Me & Miranda Mullaly,
by Jake Gerhardt


Have you reviewed a Marvelous Middle Grade Book along this theme? Please leave the link in the comments below. Thanks!

Check out all the Marvelous Middle Grade Monday recommendations for February 13, 2017.

MMGM started way back in 2010 by Shannon Messenger, author of Keeper of Lost Cities. Each week, participating bloggers review our favorite books for ages 8-12. Why not join us?


  1. Definitely one I've never read or seen, but your review intrigues me to give this book a go. Thanks for sharing and for the links to other suggested reads.

    1. If you love complex writing, I think you'll like his books. Thanks!

  2. Our library system has copies of his two Shakespeare books--now I wish we had copies of his other books.

    1. How ironic! I have managed to find most of his books through library sales. Maybe somewhere in the basement?

  3. Boy, what a busy and complex book! I have never read Garfield's books. I do like that they teach history in a manner similar to Dickens! Great and thorough review!

    1. Thank-you. The story has a lot of twists, but the author is skilled at keeping the narrative easy to follow. Hope you have a chance to read this. Thanks.

  4. Have to admit I've never read anything by Leon Garfield but the cover illustration intrigues me. The boy on the left with the red hair (is that Bostock?) looks exactly like a boy my son went to school with!

    Thank you for such a thorough analysis of this author.

    1. I'm not surprised. Most people have never heard of him, though he was highly regarded during his career. Incidentally, I have always thought the redhead was Harris, because of the knowing smirk. Bostock is trusting and guileless, more like the boy with the hat, I think. Thanks!

  5. Oh, bringing back fun memories. I love laugh out loud stories.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!