Sunday 5 May 2024



by Leon Garfield; 

Artiste: Kenny McKendry



An Adventure Book Review by Erin the Literary Cat©, International Book Reviewer.

Hello, and welcome to my weekend Book Review, featuring this week an Adventure in Middle Grade Fiction.

If you have ever wondered about what life was like in the 1800s London town, the rogues and villains, and those who really were trying just to survive, then this middle-grade book is very interesting and fun and a classic period tale. Leon Garfield, who is famed for his historical children's fiction, as well as a foray into adult literature, may well be familiar to you for works, such as Blackbeard, Jack Holburn, various adaptations of Shakespeare's works and for completing Dickens' unfinished novel – The Mystery of Edwin Drood. A truly talented, prizing winning, and much loved and lauded author on both sides of the Atlantic.

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AUTHOR: the late Leon Garfield (1921-1996)

Cover art by noted artist: Kenny McKendry.

Published by: PUFFIN

This edition publication date Paperback: 3 July 2014

Paperback ISBN: 978-0141355214

UK Cover price for Paperback: £7.99 

Kindle UK price £4.99

Pages: 277

Age range: 9 - 11 and upwards

Any dogs or cats? Not really, but lots of dodgy folks




Some as to plot direction and characters. 


Thank you to...

This is one of those finds where the cover and title spoke volumes, and having read the back cover blurb, both Mrs H and I were hooked and went straight out and bought the book. 

First and foremost, the books we review are those we select to read, like, and feel our global readers deserve to know about and that we hope they, their family, friends and students will enjoy. 


The plot

Smith, arguably a bit of a hero, even though a pickpocket, is only twelve. But in the 1800's he can still be hanged for his crimes, being 'nubbed', as the downtrodden and lower order of people called it at that time. Life in a London so very unlike that which we see today, was hard. Highwaymen and footpads prey on travellers using roads across commons and through woods that have long since formed part of the modern London urban sprawl. The side streets of London are mazes and rabbit warrens and home to dangerous folk who would kill you for a penny or the silk handkerchief in your pocket should you stray and be gone before you hit the ground.

Smith, Smut to his kin and those that know him well, is a swift of foot and finger pickpocket, in and out and away before anyone would know, let alone see his shadow. He lives below a very seedy public house, home to the worst kind. Their landlord would never give any of the villainous drinkers up to the law, leastways not for anything less than a shilling. Along with his seamstress sisters, Miss Bridget & Miss Fanny, they eke out a living. The sisters are brought the clothes of the recently executed by the prison hangman. They mend and adjust them to suit a new and presently living body for a small fee.

When Smut picks the pocket of an elderly gent seeking passage through streets he once knew, he gets more than he bargains for. Stopping to investigate the piece of paper he has picked, he sees the man stabbed to death for something he now doesn't have – the document. There is a third man, who walks with a wooden leg. He is the one wanting the document. What Smut doesn't know is that he was seen pickpocketing by a fourth person.

Smith flees the scene and returns home. Speculating that the paper must be of worth to warrant the old gent's demise at the hands of two men in brown, he wants to find out what it contains. Alas, he, like most, can't read. But when his highwayman friend Lord Tom (all dressed in green robes) suggests taking it to another (and probably untrustworthy acquaintance) to decipher, he won't risk it, keeping it close to his chest, quite literally.

The men in brown track Smut down, and a chase through the streets ensues. But lithe Smut is too sharp and soon runs the men ragged till they give up. But he has ended up in a posher part of London town. Not looking where he's going, knocks a gent to the ground. Mr Mansfield, the gent in question, is blind. He is also a Justice of the Peace, bad news for a thief, no matter the size. Smut offers to guide the man home. A deal is struck, and as Smut dares not return home, he gets to stop the night at the man's home. His daughter, Miss Mansfield, is none too happy at seeing Smut, not least because he is filthy. But she agrees to have him, for she loves her father, and the urchin has helped him.

This is the central turning point in the story. What happens to Smut and his, or rather, the murdered man's, piece of paper starts to play out and have consequences from here on in. There are twists and turns, wheels and stories within each other, that affect everyone we have met thus far and a few we have not, which naturally is why I must stop the review. 


What did we think?

We had never heard of the author. This is a crying shame, as the book is incredibly appealing and so very atmospheric that you can feel and smell the world you are very quickly drawn into. We could tell straight away this is a world and period the writer made his own and was most comfortable writing about, which, from what we can see, is where many of his tales are set. 

What we modern readers get isn't Oliver Twist the musical. We see this world from the gutter and on high in the eyes of the law and those that administered it, harsh as it was. 

The ever-present threats of ill health, the hangman's noose or ending in gaol for years on end and sometimes till death for being debtor, is our backdrop. 

It is a fair old and breathless chase, hindered yet emboldened and made urgent by the colourful characters, prize, risks, and the awful weather. The ending comes together quite nicely (though hardly blood, pain, or death-free) with lessons, perceptions, and understandings.


So . . . . 

Crunch time. 

It is a wholly satisfying, authentically created middle-grade appropriate tale. More importantly, we believe it is an excellent classic tale for all to enjoy without being over the top. Watch this space for more reviews of adventures from Leon Garfield.


Want to buy a copy?

To get a copy, please find a safe route past pickpockets, gaol, and highwaymen to your own Ye Olde Local Book Shoppe. Each is just waiting to serve up whatever kind of mystery, fun and adventure you desire.

We are joining the Sunday Selfies, hosted by the excellent Kitties Blue and their mum, Janet Blue, from the Cat on My Head blog in America. Click this link to see Janet Blue's selfie page.

Small image. The Cat on My Head Sunday Selfies Blog Hop badge. Features a yellow-haired lady with a tuxedo cat on her head.

I shall leave you with another Sofa Selfie. Gee, you'd have thought I do nothing but nap the day – and night – away!  Rest assured I have been busy doing other managerial-like things, MOL.

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Till Laters!


Till laters!


©Erin the Cat Princess