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by Avi & illustrated by Karina Raude

Age Range: 10 - 14

Pub Date: June 5th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-689-85335-7
Publisher: Richard Jackson/Atheneum

Returning to the mid-19th century for both a London setting and the narrative’s many-chaptered, confessional style, Avi spins a Dickensian web of blackmail, treason and spycraft. John Huffam, 14, rushes from school to find that, due to Father’s gambling debts, the family’s been evicted and sent to a “sponging house,” the last stop before debtors’ prison. John’s mother and sister flail in a miasma of self-absorption, while Father, a low-level bureaucrat and amateur actor, would as soon lie as breathe. It falls to John to uncover the truth and secure Father’s release, but the boy’s soon swept into a world teeming with detectives, spies and colorful eccentrics. Sary’s a street urchin who trades information for pennies; Mr. Tuckham’s a bailiff who revels in England’s “old fashioned” (and relentlessly punitive) legal system. While John’s narration is refreshingly faithful to period literary conventions, his too-guileless candor with Sary the Sneak (while a crucial plot point) strains credulity. There’s a pleasingly twist-filled resolution, though, with enough residual intrigue for a sequel. (Historical fiction. 10-14)