Mortlock by Jon Mayhew


Written by Jon Mayhew

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Shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize 2011

This devilishly good debut sees the birth of a wickedly witty and original new voice in the children’s book world. Mortlock is the sort of adventure that boys and girls will enjoy in equal measure for it is peppered with deadly thrills, clues to solve and terror around every corner. Josie and Alfie are both orphans and when they discover their shared past, little do they know that past is going to come back and haunt them. But when they do realise, they must run for their lives whilst unravelling the legacy that threatens to consume them.

A deliciously rich mix of gothic horror and black humour set a against a backdrop of murder and macabre mischief.


Mortlock by Jon Mayhew

The sister is a knife-thrower in a magician's stage act, the brother an undertaker's assistant. Neither orphan knows of the other's existence. Until, that is, three terrible Aunts descend on the girl's house and imprison her guardian, the Great Cardamom. His dying act is to pass the girl a note with clues to the secret he carries to his grave. Cardamom was one of three explorers on an expedition to locate the legendary Amarant, a plant with power over life and death. Now, pursued by flesh-eating crow-like ghuls, brother and sister must decode the message and save themselves from its sinister legacy.


Review of ‘Mortlock’ by Books for Keeps [4 stars]

As a consequence of Man’s first disobedience, according to Milton’s verse which stands at the head of this novel, the Immortal Amarant was plucked from Paradise to be returned to Heav’n, where it grows close to the Fount of Life. It turns out Milton didn’t get it quite right, for in the next few pages we learn that in 1820, three British adventurers found the plant in an Abyssinian oasis. It was too well-guarded by decaying but undead corpses for them to steal the plant, however, and reluctantly they swear upon their own blood that they will leave the Amarant where it grows. Greed to wield the power the plant would bring proves too strong, and the aftermath of the broken oath is worked out some 34 years later in this tale, whose blood-soaked melodramatic pages are worthy of a Penny Dreadful.
Those years take us into the time of our author’s namesake, Henry Mayhew, and it is dangerous streets like those of the latter’s London Labour which provide the setting for the violence which soon besets the orphan Josie, knife-throwing assistant to her guardian, The Great Cardamom. Their almost supernatural magic act is the delight of the audiences who nightly crowd the Erato Theatre. Within a few chapters, Cardamom is dead, the life drained from him by three crow-like ghuls, lusting for carrion. His dying words to Josie direct her to a twin she never knew she had – Alfie, the ward of Wiggins, Undertaker of Seven Dials. Neither Josie nor Alfie knows much about their parents and as their past begins to reveal itself and the consequences of the theft of the Amarant unravel, the twins are pursued by the ferocious ghuls, servants of the evil Lord Corvis. They escape his clutches only to find refuge in the marshy home of Lorenzo’s Incredible Circus whose performers are themselves among the undead, condemned to play every evening to an equally ghostly audience. The tortuous plot occasionally drops in pace, but there is a fine graveyard denouement involving a rotting carcass rearing up from the dank earth and the severing of the villain’s hand by Josie, who employs her stage skills to bloody effect with a gravedigger’s spade. Here among the tombstones all the mysteries surrounding the Amarant and the twins’ parents are resolved and the future looks distinctly brighter for the intrepid pair.

About the Author

Jon Mayhew

Jon Mayhew is a man with a dark imagination, who has always loved writing and storytelling. An English teacher (to children and teenagers) for 20 years, he now works as a specialist teacher for children with autism. He has four children himself and, when neither teaching nor writing, he plays in ceilidh bands and runs marathons. Jon lives between the ancient cities of Chester and Liverpool. Jon's debut novel, Mortlock, was shortlisted for the 2011 Waterstone's Children's Book Prize and longlisted for the 2011 Branford Boase Award.

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Book Info


384 pages


Jon Mayhew
More books by Jon Mayhew

Author's Website


Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Publication date

5th April 2010




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