#BookReview - Soot by Andrew Martin

York, 1799.

In August, an artist is found murdered in his home - stabbed with a pair of scissors. Matthew Harvey's death is much discussed in the city. The scissors are among the tools of his trade - for Harvey is a renowned cutter and painter of shades, or silhouettes, the latest fashion in portraiture. It soon becomes clear that the murderer must be one of the artist's last sitters, and the people depicted in the final six shades made by him become the key suspects. But who are they? And where are they to be found?

Later, in November, a clever but impoverished young gentleman called Fletcher Rigge languishes in the debtor's prison, until a letter arrives containing a bizarre proposition from the son of the murdered man. Rigge is to be released for one month, but in that time, he must find the killer. If he fails, he will be incarcerated again, possibly for life.

And so, with everything at stake, and equipped only with copies of the distinctive silhouettes, Fletcher Rigge be…

Book Review: Dodger by James Benmore




Dodger is one of those books I've been meaning for a while. When I still lived with my parents we had a Jack Russell called Dodger so it was almost fate! I have to admit however,  I'm not generally a huge fan of Dickens' books but I do make an exception for Oliver Twist and when somebody strongly recommended me James Benmore's book I immediately added it to my to be read list.
From the first few pages I was hooked. As in Dickens' novel The Artful Dodger is arrested and transported to Australia, unaware of the fates of Fagin, Bill and Nancy. This part of his life is skipped over here and we meet Dodger again on his return to England five years later when he is accompanied by an Aboriginal man called Warrigal, ostensibly his servant, having apparently made his fortune exporting wool. It swiftly becomes clear however, that Jack Dawkins hasn't  gone straight. He is actually in search of the Jakkapoor Stone, a valuable jewel with an dark history. What follows is a thrillingly exuberant adventure story, occasionally poignant and with clever twists and turns, featuring a cast of vibrant characters who would fit into any Dickens novel. We learn more about Dodger's childhood, with Fagin, here a more sympathetic character (drawn as he is from Dodger's memories), meet some of Fagin's other kinchins again, now grown up, and are even treated to a brief mention of Great Expectations' Abel Magwitch. Naturally though it's Dodger himself who is the star of proceedings and his character leaps off the page. He's an anti-hero really, unlike many of Dickens' characters who find retribution, Dodger feels no remorse for his crimes. Quite the opposite in fact, he's proud of his prowess as a pickpocket and as our narrator frequently boasts of his skills. Nevertheless we still cheer him on, willing him to succeed in his quest and to avoid a dreadful fate at the hands of the villain of the piece. He is open (except when it suits him) about who he is, an honest thief then who takes pride in his work but does so without malice. He steals because he wants something but he isn't bitter that the rich have more. The life that Oliver Twist eventually found would never suit The Artful Dodger.
It would be remiss of me to fail to mention here Dodger's beloved London, almost a character it's own right. This is Dickens' dirty and seedy London evocatively brought back to life. It's perhaps not as dark as Dickens' city because it's being described to us by Dodger, a man in love with his London who sees its flaws as part of its charm.
Dodger is one of those genuine couldn't put down books, the sort I walked around reading with the book in front of my face. It's actually been a few weeks since I read it but I've thought of it often. Luckily for me there is already a sequel, Dodger of the Dials and there is to be a third book, Dodger of the Revolution so I can look forward to more. If you are a fan of Charles Dickens read this book, if your main reference point for Dodger is Jack Wild singing Consider Yourself in Oliver! read this book, if you're not a fan of Dickens or musicals but enjoy well written and well plotted stories then read this book.

Dodger is published in the UK by Heron Books.

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