Monday, July 06, 2009

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale

Thanks to Heather Booth, who had a stack of teen fiction on the reference desk, I now have a new series of books to read: Montmorency by Eleanor Updale. I liked how the covers of the books in the series evoked a foggy nineteenth century London. I anticipated something dark and cerebral and was not disappointed in the first book Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

The story begins in 1875 when a young surgeon saves the life of a criminal who is badly injured in falling through skylight. As the surgeon takes his patient to various scientific society meetings to show off his handwork, the criminal is introduced to both scientific thinking and the lives of gentlemen, sparking a desire for a better life than that of a petty thief. At first, his vision is simply being of a higher class of criminal. With diligence and ingenuity, he sets forth to realize his dream of comfort and achievement through burglary.

What seems unusual to me about Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? is that readers are asked to cheer for a master criminal. To any reader who has difficulty with that idea I recommend just accepting that a criminal can be a heroic character. I do not want to say too much and spoil the plot. I will say that some of the incidents are quite amusing. I enjoyed contemplating execution of the crimes, and I think others will, too. Perhaps there is a master criminal in each of us.

Updale uses her deep knowledge of Victorian England in telling a compelling story. I particularly enjoyed learning about Joseph Bazalgette and the engineering of the London sewer system. The details of men's clothing are also finely done. I think fans of English literature and readers who like clever characters will enjoy this quick reading book.

Updale, Eleanor. Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? Scholastic, 2003. ISBN 0439580366

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