Intrigue and betrayal infest the shadowy underworld of Dickensian London.
The tight-fisted Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley come vividly to life in an assured reimagining of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol by novelist Clinch (Belzoni Dreams of Egypt, 2014, etc.), who brilliantly captures the wit and irony of Dickens’ prose as he unfurls a tale of greed, cruelty, and passion. Marley and Scrooge meet when Ebenezer is enrolled at Professor Drabb’s Academy for Boys, a wretched place where boys, virtually abandoned by their families, teach and discipline one another, cook paltry meals, and cower under Drabb’s abuse. The boys, all of them, have secrets: “Secrets are their refuge and their currency and their stock in trade.” Secrets, Marley learns early, can be powerful. Although the same age as Ebenezer, he is duplicitous and wily and soon snares the newcomer into his debt. Later, Marley takes advantage of Ebenezer’s innate timidity to make him the silent, acquiescent partner in devious enterprises. Clinch’s Scrooge is not a heartless miser but rather an “automatic counting machine” who is happiest—“if he is happy anywhere”—at his desk. He “does the ciphering and is himself something of a cipher.” Marley, a chameleon, a snake, a sly money launderer, has created a panoply of “useful, flexible, and profitable” identities and set up a host of fictitious businesses that deal in liquor, cloth, furs, and “the hides of enslaved men.” Scrooge cares nothing about Marley’s importing companies, only about keeping ledgers. But the smooth surface of Scrooge’s life becomes roiled by two women close to him: his sister Fan and her friend Belle. Fan comes to hate Marley, a man, she says, who believes “the earth itself exists only to be bought and sold.” Belle, who excites in Scrooge something like love, insists that the partnership divest itself of the slaving business. Scrooge’s efforts to win Belle and thwart Marley’s unsavory enterprises lead him into “the thicket of Marley’s deceit” and, ultimately, a final confrontation between two bitter adversaries.
An adroit, sharply drawn portrayal of Dickens’ indelible characters.