There’s no such thing as magic, right?
Dragons are mythical creatures, aren’t they?
And when people are dead they stay dead, don’t they?
Well, maybe not.
Things would have been a lot simpler if Danny hadn’t ducked out of school without permission: he wouldn’t have been in the city centre, cold and hungry; he wouldn’t have tried to stop a robbery; and he wouldn’t have met Ellie, her grandfather and their bodyguard.
He knows from the start that they’re up to something, and the more he finds out the weirder things get. His first clue: Ellie can read minds and talk to animals. His second clue: a fireball, police and a very sharp exit. And who is the man who simply will not die?
Danny is soon caught up in an incredible conspiracy and sets off on a strange journey – but first he has to get out of Oxford in one piece, which isn’t so easy when you attract chaos the way he does.
This is the first of a series which will include Danny Brown And The Tiger In The Library (May 2021), Danny Brown And The Ice Spiders, Danny Brown At The End Of The World, Danny Brown And The Queen Of Air And Darkness and Danny Brown And The Eternal City.
Targeted Age Group:: 9-16
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
This book had been growing in my mind for a long time before I sat down to write it. I love the Sherlock Holmes stories but they're locked into their time and place. Would it be possible to write something similar today?
In the Victorian era you could discover a lot just by observation. People's professions were written in their faces, clothes, hands. Social classes were rigid. Poverty and criminality existed on a scale that we can hardly imagine.
I had just about decided that a modern Holmes couldn't exist when Danny walked in and the story took off. His detective skills lead him to discover an incredible conspiracy. He's invited to join and he's eager to leave his old life behind and explore his new world. But reality isn't like that – there are problems to overcome before you get what you want. At the heart of this story there's magic and discovery but I wanted to it as realistic as possible. Still, Danny gets there in the end… and the story has only just begun. I think it will take five more books before we finally get to the bottom of the mystery and I'm writing them as fast as I can and as fast as Danny's antics will let me.
The dining hall is one of the oldest parts of St Luke's College, dating back to Tudor times, with a high, oak-beamed ceiling and stained glass windows. Danny caught his breath as he entered the room: the windows glowed with the dying light of the day, and everywhere were candles, with no artificial light. The effect was mysterious and enchanting. He glanced at Ellie, who was walking beside him – she was smiling from ear to ear.
Two long tables down either side of the room were already filled with students and their guests, the students wearing short scholars' gowns. There was a steady buzz of conversation that died away as the Fellows and their guests entered, and to Danny and Ellie's delight everyone rose to their feet as a sign of respect.
They walked in procession down the room to another long table set crosswise at the end, on a low platform: High Table. They took their places standing behind their chairs. The Master was in the middle, facing down the room. The Professor and Margaret were on either side of him. Adam, now wearing a borrowed sweater, was a bit further along. Danny and Ellie found themselves next to each other, sandwiched between two elderly Fellows.
A small bell rang and one of the Fellows said grace in Latin in a curious sing-song voice.
“Benedic, Domine, dona tua quae de largitate sumus sumpturi“
Everyone said Amen. Danny and Ellie exchanged grins. Then the Master sat down and the other diners followed suit.
The table was beautifully set, with heavy silver cutlery, gleaming glassware and crisp white linen. Danny looked with concern at the array of utensils in front of him. There were several different knives and forks, but what was each one for? He remembered vaguely that you started from the outside and worked in, but that suddenly seemed to offer too many options, too many routes to embarrassment and disaster.
He sneaked a glance at Ellie and was relieved that she seemed as worried as he did. She shrugged. “A bit early to call for help,” she said. “I'm just going to start with the little knives and work up.”
“Sounds like a plan.” He picked up the menu. Now this was something he could understand, even if a few of the words were unfamiliar.
Roast butternut squash soup with toasted seeds
Smoked salmon with capers, lemon & crème frâiche
Suprême of cornfed chicken with mushroom sauce
Fillet of seabass with steamed pak choi & Hollandaise sauce
Leek, mushroom & walnut tart
Winter berry pudding with cream
Cheese board with celery & grapes
Coffee & mints
Whatever some of it meant it sounded delicious. The day was turning out well, apart from nearly cutting Adam in half.
“What makes a chicken supreme as opposed to just ordinary?“ he asked Ellie.
“I have no idea,” she replied, “but it involves it being dead. I hope you're not going to eat it?“
His heart sank. “You're a vegetarian.”
“Got a problem with that?“
“Er no, of course not. It's just that I've had a leek tart before, and soup of course, but I've never eaten the other things on the menu. Do you object to salmon or seabass?“
“Oh, OK,” she conceded. “But no chicken – those bones and wings give me the creeps.”
“Thanks… hey, why am I thanking you?“
“Because in this posh company you have to be polite to ladies,” she said primly. “Besides, I’m one of your few friends so you need to keep in with me.”
You know what? thought Danny to himself, it would take me all evening to analyse what's wrong with that. Arrogant, manipulative, sexist… He sighed.
A waiter came to take his order. “Salmon please, and then the seabass.”
Ellie leaned towards him and said in a loud whisper “You do know that it’s simply not done to have fish for both starters and mains, don’t you?“
They exchanged dark looks and then she giggled. “Gotcha!”
“Whatever. Enjoy your salmon.”
The food arrived quickly and he did enjoy it, very much, and ate slowly and silently for several minutes, taking pleasure in the unfamiliar textures and flavours, while Ellie applied herself to her soup.
The background noise in the room rose with the clatter of knives, forks and spoons, driving up the volume of conversation as diners raised their voices to make themselves heard by their neighbours.
Danny became suddenly aware of a change in the noise. People were stopping eating and voices were becoming more shrill as if in alarm. He looked up and realised that more and more diners were staring or pointing towards the ceiling.
He peered up into the gloom and after a moment he spotted a bird – a starling, it looked like – fluttering around the rafters. As he watched it dashed itself against a closed window, again and again, then began frantically circling.
There were cries of both sympathy and disgust from the diners, many of whom had thrown their napkins over their plates or bowls to protect their food.
“It looks like it was trying to roost and we woke it up,” said the elderly Fellow sitting next to him – the first words he had directed at Danny since dinner started. “They get in all the time, you know.”
Danny thought: Then for goodness sake why don’t you put mesh over the windows, you idiots? But he had the good manners not to say it aloud.
Ellie reached into her handbag and came out with something hidden in her hand, and Danny knew immediately what was about to happen. She glanced around furtively then placed her hand on her other wrist and made a smoothing motion.
She pushed back her chair and stood up. Her grandfather saw her and seemed to say something. She shook her head, then stepped away from the table.
Danny heard Margaret’s voice inside his head. "Oh, stop the young fool would you, Danny? She’ll embarrass us all."
He jumped. It was Margaret’s voice, precisely, and yet there was no sound. He looked down the table – she was staring at him and he heard her voice inside his head again. "Come on, quickly!" But her lips weren’t moving.
He stared back at her stupidly. She rolled her eyes in exasperation.
Ellie stepped to the back of the room and raised a hand high. Her other hand was concealed behind her back.
The starling immediately stopped its frantic fluttering, turned and flew towards her. A hundred pairs of astonished eyes followed as it swooped down from the gloom of the rafters, along the length of the candlelit hall and low over the heads of the Master and his guests, to land on her outstretched hand.
There was a collective gasp from throughout the room, and a scraping of chairs as people stood up to get a better look. Most of the Fellows looked round too, among them, Danny noticed, that man Bryce. This would make another second-hand experience for his collection, no doubt.
Ellie ignored them all and focussed her attention entirely on the bird. It perched on her finger, staring at her with beady black eyes, headed cocked on one side. She cocked her own head and blew little kisses at it.
She turned and walked over to an astonished waiter, bearing the bird in front of her. He showed her out through a service door. She returned a minute later without the bird and resumed her seat.
The hubbub began to die down. Danny saw that Margaret was scanning the room, her gaze lingering here and there on any diners who seemed to be particularly excited. Little by little the room settled down and dinner was resumed.
Ellie dropped her band back into her handbag, produced a pack of antiseptic wipes and carefully cleaned her hands. “I like animals,” she explained to Danny, “but they don't have the same standards of hygiene that we do.”
She was completely matter of fact, as if charming birds was a daily occurrence for her. Danny, at a loss for words, realised that might well be the case.
Danny's neighbour leaned across him as if he wasn't there and said to Ellie: “That was a remarkable thing, young woman. How did you do that? Do you talk to animals? Are you some sort of female Doctor Dolittle?“
She smiled sweetly and said “Oh no, it's just a simple trick. Nothing to it.” The man nodded. “No, I suppose not,” he said dismissively and turned to his neighbour on the other side to resume a conversation about, as far as Danny could tell, ancient Greek politics or something.
The main course arrived. Quite a large fish, but Danny thought he was probably up to the task. At least he knew how to use a fish knife and fork – he had had fish every Friday of his life so far, and Sister Mary was a stickler for good table manners.
But as he ate his mind was far away, turning over the events of the day. "This morning I was threatened with being slung out of school," he thought. "Tonight I'm smartly dressed, dining in an Oxford college and sitting next to a pretty girl who can talk to birds." He looked down the hall at the candles, the cheerful faces, the hovering waiters. "I could get used to this!"
He found a bubble of great good humour rising inside his chest, and he realised that for the first time in a very long while he was completely happy.
“Are you alright?“ asked Ellie.
“You stopped eating and you're sitting there beaming at everyone like a sort of Buddha.”
He gave her a benevolent, Buddha-like smile. “Right before their eyes,” he said quietly.
“Yes, you. Right in front of everyone. And they didn't realise. It was magnificent.”
Ellie was beginning to share his mood. “Thank you. Yes, it's all rather fun, isn't it? And this too.” She gestured at the hall.
“Your grandmother doesn't look as if she's having fun, though.” Margaret scowled at both of them.
“You worked out the relationship, did you? You know, you are pretty good. Yes, I gave her quite a lot of work, quietening things down. But what else could I have done?“
“How about letting it suffer?“
“That's not my way,” she said. “She's not happy with you either. Didn't you hear her talking to you? You were supposed to have rugby tackled me or something.”
“I doubt if that would have helped. I was too surprised, anyway.”
“I thought you knew she could do that?“
“Knowing is one thing, experiencing is another.”
She dropped her voice. “Better get used to it. If you want to join us, that's the way we are.”
Danny's heart leaped. “Will I be joining you then?“
“Unless Granny finds out that you're a foreign spy. Not a lot of choice, really, since you already know pretty much everything.”
“Elves,” he said cryptically.
He leaned close and whispered in her ear. “That's your secret – you use Elvish magic.”
Ellie snorted. “Shut up, you idiot. The elves left Middle Earth years ago. And finish your fish – the smell is killing me.”
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Kim worked as a journalist and a publisher for longer than he intended to, before giving it up to write software. But he always wanted to tell stories and when he finally got round to it he loved it and found he's surprisingly good at it!
Everyone likes a good "what if" story and that's what drives the Danny Brown books. What if a teenage boy is as good a detective as Sherlock Holmes? What if he meets a girl who can read minds? What if there's a man who refuses to die – who is he and what does he want?
Kim lives in Oxford and has spent a lot of time in the West Country and that's where the Danny Brown books start, but they don't stay there for long. "I have an idea how the story should go," he says, "but the characters don't always agree with me, especially Danny. They pretty much go where they want and do what they want and my job is to write it down."