© Estate of Philip Turner, illustration by Philip Gough.
Beginning with this book in 1964, Philip Turner penned a series of charming and often exciting stories about the imaginary northern England coastal town of Darnley Mills and three children who live there. The story begins with David, who lives above the shop shown on the cover. His father is a cabinet maker, David’s mother is deceased, and David has a physical problem — one of his legs is shorter than the other — which causes him much heartache, but he’s a good kid liked by many, and his two special friends are Arthur, the athletic son of a sheep farmer, and Peter, the son of the rector of the large local church. Peter is something of a mad scientist type, and has his own loft to create things in. All three are not only schoolmates but sing in the church choir together, and that means the church itself plays a large role in their lives and in the story. No surprise that the author himself was a rector with two boys of his own.
The clock of the title is at the center of a mystery from World War One that the boys find themselves drawn into, involving Colonel Sheperton’s mysterious murder. His clock was sent to David’s grandfather, then the cabinet maker, for repairs, but the owner’s murder meant it had never been called for, so it’s still sitting in the shop. The boys begin to uncover more details about Colonel Sheperton and his sudden end when they explore the church and find an article about the murder from a paper of the time, a report on the inquest. Getting into places they shouldn’t go is an obsession with the boys, and they find this paper inside the church organ, after a game of exploring and hiding from the church maintenance man.
As the story of the murder unfolds, a more personal one for young David does, too, as a new young doctor suggests a possible cure for his deformity that will mean a tricky operation and a long hospital stay. Everyone rallies around the boy, who faces this new challenge bravely. Throughout the book there are wonderful characters, and both the town itself and the ancient church are almost characters, too. By the end of the book we know them nearly as well as the boys do, thanks to Turner’s fine writing. The solving of the murder mystery is only one of the appealing elements of this story, and near the end there’s a great capper, when thieves enter the church and the boys take them on alone.
All the Darnley Mills books are great reading, if you can find them, and are highly recommended.