Title: The Newgate Jig
Publisher: John Murray
Hardback: 276 pages
Publication Date: 02/09/2010
It seems that watching a man dance the Newgate Jig [a rather jolly sounding euphemism for hanging] was the Victorian equivalent of going to a football match. So there’s quite the baying crowd waiting to see George Kevill swing – all but one young boy – his son Barney – who’s convinced that his father is innocent. And before the body is even cold, Barney finds himself hunted by the sinister Nasty Man, who will stop at nothing to protect the interests of some of the most powerful people in the land.
Barney’s flight leads him to the Aquarium, where he encounters a motley crew: Bob Chapman and his Sagacious Canines, Brutus and Nero [apparently sagacious means shrewd – I had to look it up!]; Princess Tiny [who is…well…tiny!]; the seven-foot tall Herr Swann and playwright / struggling author Fortinbras Horatio Trimmer [maybe writing under a pseudonym would solve his publishing woes].
With a name like Featherstone, the author sounds like she should be a character in a Dickens’ novel, and whilst he is obviously an influence [but then what Victorian-set novel could not be influenced by him?], this is still a completely individual read [even down to the shape of the hardback, which is uniquely different from the normal Royal size].
Whilst this is obviously very different from the hyper-commercial crime fiction that I have been reading recently, I tend to judge all books by the same [fairly simple, I have to say] criteria: there needs to be a good story and interesting characters [see, I told you they were simple]. The Newgate Jig delivers on both counts, and as a Londoner I was especially taken by the murky, decaying and occasionally magical vision of the capital that is described in this book. And the crime fiction addict inside me [which always loves a good twist] especially enjoyed the revelation two-thirds of the way through which came as a huge surprise. A rich and rewarding read.