Dodger by Terry Pratchett
Reading a Terry Pratchett book is always a delight, though now tinged with sadness that there won’t be any more. While I don’t think this is his finest non-Discworld book (I would give that award to ‘Nation’, which I think is one of the best books I’ve read), it is still a hugely enjoyable romp through Victorian London. The novel centres on Dodger, a young lad who makes a living ‘toshing’, that is sifting through stuff in the sewers to find items of value. He lives with an elderly Jewish man called Solomon, who has wandered all over Europe while fleeing persecution. At this point, you might be thinking “Dodger? Elderly Jewish man? Sounds suspiciously like ‘Oliver Twist’”. The clever twist (ahem, sorry) to this book is that it also happens to feature real Victorians, including one C. Dickens. While Dodger isn’t the Artful Dodger, and Solomon isn’t Fagin, in the book you can see Dickens’ cogs turning, and he is — much to Dodger’s distress — always scribbling in his notebook.
The plot is a reasonably straightforward one, in which Dodger comes to the aid of a young woman who is attacked in the street, and then tries to help her escape her abusive marriage. There are a few twists and turns along the way, but the characters (and guest appearances by Disraeli, Bazalgette, Sweeney Todd and Robert Peel among others) makes it an enjoyable ride. I particularly enjoyed Bazalgette’s tour of the sewers led by Dodger, in which he nerds out over the brickwork. Pratchett always manages to find the humanity in all his characters, and while I don’t want to provide any spoilers, there’s an outstanding passage where Dodger encounters Sweeney Todd.
There are one or two bits of thin plot, and some characters are skated over briefly (I really wanted to know more about The Outlander), but it’s still a really enjoyable read.