Mr. Timothy


By Louis Bayard

The Short Take:

Remember Tiny TIm from A Christmas Carol? Bayard transforms him into a complicated, conflicted man who becomes immersed in a deadly pursuit. Don’t think of this as a sequel to the Dickens classic: It’s a taut mystery starring the seamiest side of Victorian London. And a really great read.

Why?

I usually don’t review books this old (2003), but I just had to make an exception for Mr. Timothy. Not only does it take familiar Dickens characters and transform them, it is also a first-rate mystery, a fascinating character study, and a ghost story to boot.

The title character sees his recently deceased father everywhere, yet feels lost within himself. His journey of self-discovery travels alongside his exploration of a scandalous and terrifying mystery throughout the course of this novel.

You can read this book on so many levels — savoring its symbolism or simply enjoying the thrilling ride — and still have a wonderful time. Rich in Victorian detail and (grungy) atmosphere, it is also full of those small but jewel-like moments that make a book truly special.

Bayard’s characters are as memorable as Dickens, though his writing style is completely contemporary. It’s an ideal match that lets us inside the whirling mind of Mr. Timothy as well as his up-side-down world.

It would make a great book club book where members sought different things from their monthly read. I don’t think anybody would be disappointed.

A Little Plot:

An aimless Mr. Timothy, still taking handouts from Uncle N (Scrooge), teaches a madam how to read and write in exchange for housing in her brothel. Adrift both on land and on the Thames, he comes across two very young girls, both dead and both with the same brand burnt into their forearms. When he spies another girl running in fear for her life he cannot resist the urge to try and save her.

With the sometimes unwelcome aid of the ever-hopeful river rat, Gully, and the ambitious gutter snipe, Colin, he finds himself coming closer to understanding the mystery behind these dead girls. Unfortunately his adversaries know what he’s up to and will do anything to stop him.

Anything.

For more about Louis Bayard, Mr. Timothy, and his other books, click here.

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