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An A~Z Mystery
Goldie Alexander
Illustrated by Marjory Gardner

Who is setting fire to the old cypress hedges?

Anna Simpson insists that her best friend Zach Santisi help her find the culprits. However, Zach must also care for his numerous pets and cope with his dad threatening to sell them if his next report card isn’t better. Just about everyone these young detectives come across has a motive and as time goes on there are more and more fires and more serious confrontations...

Based on actual crimes committed by youngsters, this is the first of a series featuring Anna and Zach, Private Eyes (A~Z PIs).

Release date: 15 August 2009

ISBN 9781921479267

RRP: AUD $17
NZD $19
USD $15
GBP £11
EUR €13

Junior NF

PB 184pp


Zach has a full life, what with a menagerie to look after, a father facing bankruptcy, and friend Anna, who fancies herself as a private investigator, with Zach as her assistant. Add Ruby the wrestler, and Brett, the rookie journo, and there’s not much time left for sleeping or homework.

Zach also spends every second weekend, and most of his holidays, with his mother and her partner, Mark, and in between times, he is pleading with his teachers for more time to do his homework.

No wonder he has nightmares night after night.

Then, there’s a spate of hedge burnings – old cypress hedges, that add value to properties, but the police are too busy, and too short-staffed to launch a full surveillance. Enter the A~Z PIs, led by Anna, the girl detective with attitude.

Incident piles on incident as the pace picks up, but the story still gives the characters time to grow and change. Even if he doesn’t fully understand what he sees, Zach shares with us the challenges which face single-parent families, the homeless and the elderly, and the accidents of fortune, human weaknesses and simple mistakes are shown to underpin many of the local crimes.

Goldie Alexander touches lightly on these family problems and societal glitches, but they’re there for understanding teachers or parents to take up and run with, given the appropriate time and place. They make the story a fuller, funnier and deeper experience.

The Australian setting and vernacular, the pull-no-punches descriptions of characters, and the lack of moralising, vitalise the story. The silly mistakes and selfish behaviour of the adults are visited on the children, and take the story to a deeper level, but this is tempered by the robust humour that kids love and understand, and that is, ultimately, our saving grace.

Anna is 13, and in Year 7, and so is Zach. Given that young people like to read about characters who are the same age or slightly older than them, this story could happily be read by upper primary/lower secondary students, who are also at an age to appreciate the lively illustrations.

Hedgeburners lends itself to being read aloud, by teacher or parent.

It’s a sharing sort of book.

– Eleanor Massey, Buzzwords

Goldie Alexander is an experienced writer for primary-age children as is evident here from the compelling plot, convincing characterisation and language with which her young readers will identify. Anna and her friend Zach style themselves as private eyes who are confident that they will find out who is setting fire to the hedges near their homes. All the characters are individuals whose motivation and personal quirks are well rendered - and captured perfectly in the occasional humorous line drawings. This is the first of a series featuring Anna and Zach, based on real crimes committed by children. With 23 brief chapters and set in a large, well-spaced type, this is ideal for newly independent readers. Ages 7-10

– Elizabeth Douglas, Reading Time

It is a popular theme for young readers, and it is not surprising really.  Junior detective stories are filled with mystery and adventure and a couple of curious kids doing things they probably shouldn’t but for a good cause.  Hedgeburners is an enjoyable story.  I particularly liked that the main character Zach who is a rather reluctant participant but his partner in mystery (Anna) is very persuasive.  He has the amusing quirk in which he uses people’s characteristics to compare them to animals, this helps you imagine what they would look like while also being humorous and just a bit cheeky.  Filled with an array of different characters Hedgeburners certainly isn’t lacking in variety, which is a good thing when you are trying to track down a couple of trouble makers that are destroying the neighbourhoods hedges.

Anna and Zach (the A~Z) find themselves in the middle of a bigger tangle of trouble then you might expect a simple hedge burning incident may be.  Everything from theft to kidnapping unfolds around them which makes Anna more determined and Zach more reluctant.  One thing that is important when you are a budding detective though is a good knowledge of other people’s affairs and personal situations.   A bit of snooping and eavesdropping is required and you know that often spells trouble!

Goldie Alexander has done a great job with this junior mystery novel.  It should keep readers content and with their fill of curiosity and trouble for sometime. Marjory Gardner’s illustrations add to the story perfectly. A great junior novel, I enjoyed it.

– Angela Hall, Bug in a Book



Goldie Alexander

Goldie Alexander writes books for adults and children of all ages and is one of Australia’s most prolific and awarded authors. Her latest fiction for children is Lame Duck Protest (IP Kidz).

For more information: www.goldiealexander.com.



Marjory Gardner

Marjory Gardner is a freelance children’s book illustrator whose work has appeared in a wide range of trade and educational books and magazines published in Australia and internationally.



Wednesday, 11.30 pm. My dad’s driving Anna and me home from our school performance of High School Musical when we hear ‘eeeeooowwww… eeeeooowwww’.

‘Fire!’ Dad pulls over.

A red and silver truck swerves and races past us like a bad-tempered rhino.

Anna starts up and cries, ‘It’s heading into our street.’

My heart gives a giant hiccup.

What if Anna’s house is on fire?

Dad waits for the fire truck to disappear around the corner before following it into Grandview Avenue. Another fire truck and a police car are already outside Number 3.

‘Not us.’ Anna’s sigh of relief fills the car. ‘But it’s right next door.’

No doubt about it. Flames shooting out of the cypress hedge bordering next-door’s garden light up the sky like a giant beacon.

We spring out to join the watching crowd.

Four firemen holding thick grey hoses are pouring water onto the hedge. But it’s already too late. As the fire dies down, we see that where once a wall of carefully trimmed cypress trees fenced off next-door’s mansion, all that’s left are smoking stumps and the acrid smell of burnt sap and charred wood.

Anna’s neighbours, some in dressing gowns and slippers as if they’ve just crawled out of bed, are trying to avoid the puddles made by the firemen’s hoses.

Anna says softly, ‘There’s Robert and Diana Nelson.’

‘Course… it’s their hedge,’ I murmur. Somehow being in at the death of such a splendid old hedge, it seems only respectful to whisper. ‘Anna, where’s Jack? Shouldn’t he be here too?’

She shakes her head. ‘He’s got a new motorbike and he’s hardly ever home.’

‘Lucky him.’ I try not to show my envy. ‘When did he get it?’

Too late. Anna is rushing over to talk to her dad. She comes back to report, ‘That blaze was real dangerous. Mum says if the pumpers hadn’t turned up in time, the flames could’ve spread to both our houses.’

M is getting impatient. I take him out of my pocket and pop him onto my shoulder. We hang around watching three firemen pack up. Under the street light the fourth is deep in conversation with two policemen. One cop is seriously huge. Beneath his leather jacket his biceps bulge, and his long nose and beady eyes remind me of a pelican. The other is small and sleek, more like a greyhound.

My gaze swings across the soggy footpath to the Nelsons, who own the house behind the burnt hedge. Diana Nelson is in a shiny gold robe and matching high-heel mules. I always think of her as a glamorous stick-insect. Robert Nelson is still in a business suit as if he’s just got home from work. His face is redder than usual. Bad-tempered bulls don’t like their property being fired.

I ask, ‘Who called the fire station?’

‘Don’t know. But maybe my dad?’ Anna points to red-haired, foxy-bearded Alex Simpson who is busy consoling sexy-stick-insect Diana.

‘Do the Nelsons know who started it?’

‘Not!’ But Anna’s eyes glitter like they do when something interests her. I know what it is. Anna’s keen on solving crimes. Nothing could stoke her more than finding out who started this fire. But as she always expects me to help in her investigations, before she can even suggest it I cry, ‘No way!’

Her green gaze turns on me. ‘No way what, Zach?’

‘No way am I hunting a firebug.’ I keep my voice firm.

‘Setting fire to stuff… that’s really serious. Shouldn’t we find out who did it so we can stop them lighting more?’

Thankfully, my dad decides that we’ve had enough for one night and beckons me to his car. As I can never think of good excuses to get out of things when it comes to Anna, I’m so relieved. ‘See you tomorrow,’ I call and make my escape.

Anna’s been crazy about detective work ever since Year 5 when she reckoned this kid Darryn was pinching materials from the Art and Design Block and she wanted me to follow him. When I said no, she called me ‘wimp’, ‘wuss’, ‘sook’, and other stuff I won’t repeat. In the end I gave in. It turned out she was right, and since then there’s been no stopping her.

Don’t get me wrong. We’ve been best mates ever since kindergarten. It’s just that hunting for hedge-burners isn’t my top priority. Right now I’ve got too much else to worry about.


to Goldie Alexander's website

to Marjory Gardner's website

to the Teachers' Notes for Hedgeburners

eNews 43: How to Write Mystery Novels for Kids by Goldie Alexander