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Narrated by a 15-year-old San Francisco urchin who likes to believe that his real father was an English lord and he himself is the Duke of Baywater, this tells of a two-day 1864 adventure shared by the alleged Duke and the young reporter Mark Twain, who sets out to investigate the murder of the Duke's low-life stepfather and ends up--with the army, navy, and police as well as the Duke at his side--chasing Confederate mint robbers as they attempt to escape by sea. At one point Mark and the Duke are kidnapped and ordered killed, at another they are chased by the armed robbers they are chasing, and there is much shooting and more gun waving throughout. Mark's increasingly important news story involves more murders, disappearing corpses, multiple identities, and a plot which, if successful, could defeat Lincoln in the national election. But because of his reputation for hoaxes in previous newspaper jobs, neither the local police nor his editor at the Call will believe Mark's reports or take his warnings seriously. When at last they do take notice (Mark gets a little help from the respectable Bret Harte), Mark's story is squelched for reasons of national security. Despite some bits about the Duke admonishing Twain to take himself seriously, this isn't one of those famous-person novels that offers an interesting interpretation of the historic character. In fact, the major problem is that it doesn't half live up to Twain's own statements or colorful image. Rather, Yep uses San Francisco and Mark Twain for color much as Robert Newman uses Sherlock Holmes and Victorian London in his Baker Street Irregular series. This doesn't sparkle like the Baker Street books, but its plainer setting is evoked in enveloping detail, which gives the adventure a measure of tangible charm.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0590078240
Page count: 152pp
Publisher: Four Winds/MacMillan
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1982


ChildrenCITY OF DEATH by Laurence Yep
by Laurence Yep