I’ve mentioned before that Pratchett is a reliable author whose prolific works I don’t try to keep up with. I just know that if there’s a gap in my listening (or, much less often, reading) schedule, there will be a Terry Pratchett book to fill it enjoyably. Such was the situation when I checked out Dodger. Set in our own London in the time of Dickens, it loosely plays off of Dickens himself and some of his characters in a dangerous mystery that crosses between the upper classes and the very lowest of the low.
Dodger by Terry Pratchett. Read by Stephen Briggs. Dreamscape Media, 2012.
Our hero is Dodger, a talented young tosher, whose explores the sewers for lost treasures for a living. He’s been trained by the best, and lives with and helps provide for one Solomon Cohen, who in turn does his best to keep Dodger as honest as possible. As the story opens, Dodger bursts out of the sewers in the middle of a rain storm just in time to save a beautiful blond girl from being beaten to death by two thugs. Dickens and a doctor friend also come on the scene and take the girl to the doctor’s house to recover. But even when she returns to consciousness (not having been saved from a bad beating), she refuses to say who she is. Only to Dodger does she confess that it’s because her husband allowed the beating in the first place. Captivated by her beauty, Dodger agrees to find out who her attackers were and how to get her away from her enemies for good.
This is an exciting exploration of London’s Dark Underbelly. We learn secrets of the tosher’s trade and legends of the Lady of the Sewers, protectress of those who work there. We are introduced to Historical Figures including a certain notorious barber on Fleet Street and Mr. Benjamin Disraeli. All of this immersion in the time and place was heightened by listening to the audiobook, as Stephen Briggs does an admirable job with representing the diverse cast of characters. The book fell a little flat for me in the romance department – Simplicity (as they decide to call the mysterious girl) is never really developed much as a character. We know enough to know that she has Depth and Fortitude, but Dodger’s commitment to her is based on a combination of instant attraction and horror that anyone would treat a woman so. There’s nothing wrong with that as a starting point, and also nothing wrong with (maybe) with the character admitting they will have to get to know each other when things have settled down, but I would have liked to see the relationship build more in the book. Still, Dodger is a likeable character, and there is plenty both in action and atmosphere to keep things going. Recommended for fans of gritty Victorian fiction teen and up.