Two 1994 novellas—Thunderbolt’s Waxwork and The Gas-Fitters’ Ball—plunge readers into the colorful melee of 1894 London in this satisfying, slapstick U.S. debut starring the intrepid boy and girl detectives of the New Cut Gang.
Counterfeiting sixpences is “a low, sneaking, sniveling sort of crime,” as it hurts the poor the most. So when Thunderbolt Dobney sees his own father hauled off to jail for what he thinks must be “coining,” he feels sick inside. Justice prevails when, through a series of outrageously elaborate hijinks, he and the New Cut Gang expose the real criminal. Why a host of crooks is after the unsettlingly hideous wax-headed dummy of Dippy the hot-chestnut vendor is an entirely different case to crack. In The Gas-Fitters’ Ball, the New Cut Gang is just lamenting the recent lack of crime in London when the Gas-Fitters’ Hall is burgled. No Swedish match or drop of wax goes unnoticed, and another mystery is solved. As ever, Pullman proves himself the master storyteller with laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue and memorable characters that spring to life, from the literally omnivorous Sharky Bob to the “blooming supernatural” Peretti twins and the “oily-eyed poodle-faker” Mr. Horspath.
A strong sense of right and wrong permeates the gleeful absurdity of the New Cut Gang’s madcap capers and refreshes the soul. (Mystery. 9-12)