Dicey's Song

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The four Tillerman children finally have a home at their grandmother's rundown farm on the Maryland shore. It's what Dicey has dreamed of for her three younger siblings, but after watching over the others for so long, it's hard to let go. Who is Dicey, if she's no longer the caretaker for her family?

Dicey finds herself in new friends, in a growing relationship with her grandmother, and in the satisfaction of refinishing the old boat she found in the barn. Then, as Dicey ...

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Dicey's Song

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The four Tillerman children finally have a home at their grandmother's rundown farm on the Maryland shore. It's what Dicey has dreamed of for her three younger siblings, but after watching over the others for so long, it's hard to let go. Who is Dicey, if she's no longer the caretaker for her family?

Dicey finds herself in new friends, in a growing relationship with her grandmother, and in the satisfaction of refinishing the old boat she found in the barn. Then, as Dicey experiences the trials and pleasures of making a new life, the past comes back with devastating force, and Dicey learns just how necessary -- and painful -- letting go can be.

Now that the four abandoned Tillerman children are settled in with their grandmother, Dicey finds that their new beginnings require love, trust, humor, and courage.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Holmes and Watson provide the template for this very satisfying historical thriller from Kerr (The Grid, etc.), with Sir Isaac Newton acting as great detective and one Christopher Ellis serving as narrator. It's 1696, and a series of murders are plaguing the Tower of London, where the middle-aged Newton has recently assumed (as in real life) the position of warden of the royal mint, with the younger Ellis (again as in real life) serving as his assistant. Like Holmes, the cold and cerebral Newton relies on rationalism the scientific method to solve the crimes, while Ellis, quick with sword, pistol and temper, brings the emotional counterweight provided by Conan Doyle's Watson. The murders are accompanied by esoteric clues, most notably encrypted messages and alchemical references, that spur Newton to their resolution as forcefully as does his intense sense of duty, for the killings seem to involve not only a plot to disrupt a recoinage necessary to continue England's war with France, but also a conspiracy to commit religious genocide against a backdrop of incessant tensions between Catholics and Protestants. The mystery elements of the novel provide a sturdy spine for the book's main flesh: its robust recreation of life at the end of the 17th century. Ellis's fluid narration sets the tone, illuminating a London beset by pestilence, poverty, whores and ruffians, noblemen grave or foppish, opium dens, brothels and grisly executions, and a bright array of historical figures including, in the role of blackguard, Daniel Defoe. There's an erotic/romantic subplot involving Ellis and Newton's niece, but the main focus is on the two leads. Both are well drawn, though Newton, ostensibly the novel's center, is less compelling than Ellis's full-blooded youth. That disparity, and an overly complex plot, are the drawbacks of what is, withal, a most gripping and well-appointed entertainment. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
In the second book of Voigt's "Tillerman family" cycle, Dicey and her younger brothers and sister settle in with their grandmother on a stark homestead by the Chesapeake Bay. Their mother remains unresponsive in a Boston psychiatric hospital. Dicey is confused about where she fits into the family now that Gram has taken over responsibility for the youngsters, but she soon learns that the family still needs her resourcefulness and solid good sense. Dicey and Gram steady one another as each reaches out, breaking Tillerman tradition. Gram is a hard, proud woman who has lived to regret her isolation and the scattering of her children. Gram makes overtures to town folk and her world expands. Dicey tries to remain aloof at school, but neither Jeff the musician nor the forceful Mina relents until Dicey allows them into her circle of caring. In her spare time, Dicey is restoring a derelict sailboat, meticulously sanding down layers of old paint. Metaphorically, her emotional defenses wear away as she slowly opens to hope, friendship, expressive writing, and finally to an acceptance of her mother's death. When Gram and Dicey bring her mother's ashes home, the broken family is nearly healed. Written in fine, spare prose, this outstanding Newbery Medal winner belongs in every school and community library collection. Readers will be eager to pick up the rest of the series. 2003 (orig. 1982), Aladdin/Simon and Schuster, Ages 10 to 14.
— Ann Philips
Library Journal
There have been many mysteries featuring famous historical figures as protagonists, among them Elliot Roosevelt's crime-solving First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Stephanie Barron's investigative Jane Austen, and Karen Harper's sleuthing Queen Elizabeth I. Now comes Sir Isaac Newton and his assistant, Christopher Ellis (also an actual person). It is 1696 in London, and Ellis has been hired to help Newton in his job as Warden of the Royal Mint. Ordered by the king to find and prosecute counterfeiters whose false coins threaten the war-shaken British economy, the two men get more than they bargained for when they uncover a much more dangerous conspiracy. Plot devices such as secret coded documents, the pseudoscience of alchemy, and a string of strange murders make for an exciting read. Using as backdrop the Tower of London, the Royal Mint, Bedlam madhouse, and Newgate Prison, the ever-versatile Kerr, author of sophisticated science-based thrillers like The Second Angel and Esau, weaves a rich tapestry of interesting characters and period details. Highly recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/02.] Fred Gervat, Concordia Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY
The Barnes & Noble Review

"The woman put her sad moon-face in at the window of the car. 'You be good,' she said. 'You hear me? You little ones, mind what Dicey tells you. You hear?' "

"Dicey sat in front. She was thirteen and she read the maps."

Thus begins the first page of several thousand that comprise the seven young adult novels that would become known as the Tillerman Cycle. Dicey Tillerman is the girl in the front seat with the map, though at thirteen, with cropped hair and without "bosoms," she is often mistaken for a boy. This mostly works to her advantage, because the woman with the moon-face — her mother, Liza — is never seen again. The plan had been for Liza to drive her family from their beach shack in the sand dunes of Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she can no longer pay the rent, to the house of an allegedly wealthy aunt in Bridgeport, Connecticut, whom the children have never met. Instead, Liza ditches her children in the parking lot of a Connecticut mall. Dicey has eleven dollars and fifty cents, her three small siblings — James, ten; Maybeth, eight; and Sammy, six — and a map.

She decides to walk. Down Route One, across rivers, down the coast, through the Yale campus, the children walk, sleeping in campgrounds and abandoned houses and fishing and clamming and eating stale doughnuts and bruised fruit. When the "wealthy aunt" turns out to be a sour cousin who works in a garment factory and, on the advice of her Catholic priest, decides it best to break up the family, the children take off on foot again, down the coast of Maryland to Crisfield, a tiny coastal town outside Annapolis, to find Liza's mother, whom they have also never met.

This past spring and summer, all seven of the novels in the Tillerman Cycle have been reissued in shiny new hardcover editions, many stamped with the gold and silver award medals that indicate their status as modern classics. Thirty years later, it's striking to realize that the publication dates of these novels — 1981 to 1989 — correspond exactly to the years Ronald Reagan was president. In an era that revered cowboy capitalism and disparaged single mothers, broken homes, and "welfare queens," Cynthia Voigt wrote — and won awards for — novels about poor children, ditched by their unwed mother and saved by two other single women: a thirteen-year-old girl and, eventually, a sixty-something barefoot widow (Ab Tillerman, a.k.a. Gram).

The Tillermans, in many ways, conform to classic American notions of the noble poor: They never borrow money, never take charity (Gram even must be convinced that she has "earned" her Social Security payments), and always work hard at any job — scrubbing windows, delivering newspapers, crabbing — they can find. ("The Tillermans weren't greedy, to be rich or to own things, or to be famous, either," Dicey tells us. "They just wanted to be able to take care of whoever they were supposed to, just to earn a living — because your living wasn't a present, it had to be earned.") They are frugal (they bake their own bread, grow their own vegetables, use dried milk instead of fresh, and commute the ten or so miles to town via bicycle and boat), yet they know what to value (real butter and maple syrup, used sparingly; hand-carved wooden toys over plastic; antique tools; old books).

The Tillermans' fastidious self-reliance is so complete that it verges on the anachronistic — these are people who, in the eighties, consider cars a frivolity — which lends the novels a patina of timelessness and links them to a much older, distinctly American mythology: These children could have made their walk during the Depression, put up preserves with Laura Ingalls Wilder, found themselves in an orphanage with Anne Shirley, or crossed a river with Huck Finn. The songs they sing could come straight from the Alan Lomax American songbook and, for a time, they even take up with the circus. Dicey herself recognizes her affinity with the earliest American immigrants, who came "because they wanted to live and work in a land that civilization hadn't already polished and divided, because they loved wildness and wanted to match themselves up against the wildness and see how they did." You'd probably say that a girl who led three children into the wilds of the Eastern Seaboard and kept them fed and sheltered for two months, using roughly the same methods employed by people centuries before, did pretty well.

This adherence to such narrative archetypes is what gives these stories a surprisingly subversive power. The Tillerman Cycle is an American family epic: the first novel in the series is so clear in its purpose that it is actually called Homecoming. But the richly textured American families described in these novels stand in stark contrast to the rigid definition of "family values" pushed by the dominant politicians of their era. They fight the Catholic Church, in the form of Cousin Eunice and her priest, when those allied forces try to label the children "good" and "bad" and separate them to be adopted. They fight the kids at school, who call them — in an insult that recalls a pre-modern social order — bastards.

Even the name Tillerman, it turns out, comes to the children through matrilineal lines. At first, it seems that the children's father, Francis Verricker — who shows up in a flashback scene with a babe named Honey — just wasn't the marrying kind. But we later realize that the partner who refused marriage was Liza, who didn't like watching what marriage did to her mother and insisted her children carry on her last name. And though Gram points out that she herself was not born a Tillerman — the name belonged to her late husband, John — it is she who gives the children their most distinctive shared feature: their hazel eyes.

Those eyes, with their mixed-up colors, are as good a metaphor as any for a family in which difference, even extreme eccentricity, is frankly celebrated. Dicey's best friend, Mina, describes Dicey as "pretty strong meat," and the same could be said for all Voigt's characters, including Mina herself. Dicey initially describes her grandmother as "a good enemy," which leads her to conclude that "she might make a good friend." Indeed, the two become an astonishingly good parental tag team, skillfully recognizing that James is smart but is terrible at follow-through, or that Maybeth may learn better through pictures and music than books, and resolutely respecting each child's difference. It's pure pleasure to watch them as parents — especially when one steps back and realizes that they are a teenage girl and an aging woman.

From the earliest books in the series, Voigt introduces several black characters, including the man who runs the circus and helps the children, and Mina, one of the best-liked girls in school. Later in the series, Crisfield's racial history becomes much more explicit: The Runner, book number four, takes place in the late sixties and is told from the perspective of the children's uncle, nicknamed Bullet, a high school athlete who died in Vietnam and has explicitly racist attitudes. The next book, Come a Stranger, describes Mina's more subtle experience with racism as the "ex-token black girl" at a ballet camp with rich private school girls, and how she gets back to feeling comfortable being loud and confident taking up space.

The final two novels circle back to the Tillermans. In Sons from Afar, James and Sammy go on a quest for their prodigal father; Seventeen Against the Deale brings all the children to the cusp of adulthood: Dicey, twenty-one and starting her own business as a boat builder; James at Yale; Sammy an athlete; Maybeth singing and baking. Liza Tillerman, as so many mothers in fairy tales, doesn't make it, but her children are satisfyingly intact. They've obviously learned how to survive, but in the final two novels, they do an awful lot of failing, too. Perversely, this seems to underscore their resilience: failure, for a Tillerman, becomes a kind of creative problem solving.

But I'm not so sure about Frankie Verricker. Throughout the series, the children's father shimmers on the edges of the stories, never seen but often described by others: the mother whose daughter he spirited away, the teacher who praised him for his brilliance, the teacher who expelled him for his troublemaking, the women he charmed, the men whose money he stole. By the end of the novels, his children still count him as missing, but if your eyes are sharp enough, you may catch him lurking around the margins toward the end of the series, taking a good long look at what he left behind. In true trickster fashion, he doesn't reveal himself, and none of his children have a full enough description to recognize his character's mug shot. But the reader does. My money says that the prodigal father does return, as an open secret between the author and the diligent reader who has followed his family through seven novels. But he doesn't come for the sons. He knows where to go. He looks for the girl with the map.

Amy Benfer has worked as an editor and staff writer at Salon, Legal Affairs, and Paper magazine. Her reviews and features on books have appeared in Salon, The San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, The Believer, Kirkus Reviews, and The New York Times Book Review.

Reviewer: Amy Benfer

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781442428799
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Series: Tillerman Cycle Series, #2
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 173,485
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.05 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Cynthia Voigt won the Newbery Medal for Dicey’s Song, the Newbery Honor Award for A Solitary Blue, and the National Book Award Honor for Homecoming, all part of the beloved Tillerman cycle. She is also the author of many other celebrated books for middle grade and teen readers, including Izzy, Willy-Nilly and Jackaroo. She was awarded the Margaret A. Edwards Award in 1995 for her work in literature, and the Katahdin Award in 2004. She lives in Maine.

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Read an Excerpt

The sun shall be no more thy light by day; neither for brightness shall the moon give light unto thee: but the Lord shall be unto thee an everlasting light, and thy God thy glory.

(Isaiah 60:19)

On Thursday, November the fifth, 1696, most people went to church. But I went to fight a duel.

Gunpowder Day was then a cause for Protestant celebration twice over: this had been the day, in 1605, when King James I had been delivered from a Roman Catholic plot to blow up the Parliament; and, in 1688, it had also been the day when the Prince of Orange had landed at Torbay to deliver the Church of England from the oppressive hand of another Stuart, the Catholic King James II. Many Gunpowder Day sermons were preached throughout the City, and I would have done well to have listened to one of them, for a little consideration of heavenly deliverance might have helped me to channel my anger against Papist tyranny instead of the man who had impugned my honour. But my blood was up and, my head being full of fighting, I and my second walked to the World's End Tavern in Knightsbridge where we had a slice of beef and a glass of Rhenish for breakfast, and thence to Hyde Park, to meet my opponent, Mister Shayer, who was already waiting with his own second.

Shayer was an ugly-looking fellow, whose tongue was too big for his mouth so that he lisped like a little child when he spoke, and I regarded him as I would have regarded a mad dog. I no longer remember what our dispute was about, except to say that I was a quarrelsome sort of young man and very likely there was fault on both sides.

No apologies were solicited and none proffered and straightaway all fourof us threw off our coats and fell to with swords. I had some skill with the weapon, having been trained by Mister Figg in the Oxford Road, but there was little or no finesse in this fight and, in truth, I made short work of the matter, wounding Shayer in the left pap which, being close to his heart, placed the poor fellow in mortal fear of his life, and me in fear of prosecution, for duelling was against the law since 1666. Most gentlemen fighting paid but little heed to the legal consequences of their actions; however, Mister Shayer and myself were both at Gray's Inn, acquainting ourselves with a tincture of English law, and our quarrel was quickly the cause of a scandal that obliged my leaving off a career at the Bar, permanently.

It was perhaps no great loss to the legal profession, for I had little interest in the Law; and even less aptitude, for I had only gone to the Bar to please my late father who always had a great respect for that profession. And yet what else could I have done? We were not a rich family, but not without some connections, either. My elder brother, Charles Ellis, who later became an MP, was then the under-secretary to William Lowndes, who was himself the Permanent Secretary to the First Lord of the Treasury. The Treasurer, until his recent resignation, had been Lord Godolphin. Several months later the King named as Godolphin's replacement the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Montagu, to whom Isaac Newton owed his appointment as Warden of the Royal Mint in May 1696.

My brother told me that until Newton's arrival in the position, there had been few if any duties that were attached to the Wardenship; and Newton had taken the position in expectation of receiving the emolument for not much work; but that the Great Recoinage had given the office a greater importance than hitherto it had enjoyed; and that Newton was obliged to be the principal agent of the coin's protection.

In truth it was sore in need of protecting for it had become much debased of late. The only true money of the realm was the silver coin-for there was little if ever much gold about-which constituted sixpences, shillings, half-crowns and crowns; but until the great and mechanised recoinage, mostly this was hand-struck with an ill-defined rim that lent itself to clipping or filing. Except for a parcel of coin struck after the Restoration, none of the coin in circulation was more recent than the Civil War, while a great quantity had been issued by Queen Elizabeth.

Fate took a hand to drive the coinage further out of order when, after William and Mary came to the throne, the price of gold and silver became greatly increased, so that there was much more than a shilling's worth of silver in a shilling. Or at least there ought to have been. A new-struck shilling weighed ninety-three grains, although with the price of silver increasing all the time it need only have weighed seventy-seven grains; and even more vexing was that with the coin so worn and thin, and rubbed with age, and clipped and filed, a shilling often weighed as little fifty grains. Because of this, people were inclined to hoard the new coin and refuse the old.

The Recoinage Act had passed through the Parliament in January 1696, although this only chafed the sore, the Parliament having been imprudent enough to damn the old money before ensuring that there existed sufficient supplies of the new. And throughout the summer-if that was what it was, the weather being so bad-money had remained in such short supply that tumults every day were feared. For without good money how were men to be paid, and how was bread to be bought? If all that was not subversion enough, to this sum of calamity was added the fraud of the bankers and the goldsmiths who, having got immense treasures by extortion, hoarded their bullion in expectation of its advancing in value. To say nothing of the banks that every day were set up, or failed, besides an intolerable amount of taxation on everything save female bodies and an honest, smiling countenance, of which there were few if any to be seen. Indeed there was such a want of public spirit anywhere that the Nation seemed to sink under so many calamities.

Much aware of my sudden need for a position and Doctor Newton's equally sudden need for a clerk, Charles prevailed upon Lord Montagu to consider advancing me in Newton's favour for employment, and this despite our not having the fondness which we used and ought to have as brothers. And by and by, it was arranged that I should go to Doctor Newton's house in Jermyn Street to recommend myself to him.

I remember the day well, for there was a hard frost and a report of more Catholic plots against the King, and a great search for Jacobites was already under way. But I do not remember that Newton's reputation had made much of an impression upon my young mind; for, unlike Newton, who was a Cambridge Professor, I was an Oxford man and, although I knew the classics, I could no more have disputed any general mathematical system, let alone one affecting the universe, than I could have discoursed upon the nature of a spectrum. I was aware only that Newton was, like Mister Locke and Sir Christopher Wren, one of the most learned men in England, although I could not have said why: cards were my reading then and pretty girls my scholarly pursuit-for I had studied women closely; and I was as skilled in the use of sword and pistol as some are with a sextant and a pair of dividers. In short, I was as ignorant as a jury unable to find a verdict. And yet, of late-especially since leaving my inn of court-my ignorance had begun to weigh upon me.

Jermyn Street was a recently completed and quite fashionable suburb of Westminster, with Newton's house toward the western and better end, close by St. James's Church. At eleven o'clock I presented myself at Doctor Newton's door, was admitted by a servant and ushered into a room with a good fire in it, where Newton sat awaiting my arrival upon a red chair with a red cushion and a red morocco-bound book. Newton did not wear a wig and I saw that his hair was grey but that his teeth were all his own and good for a man of his age. He wore a crimson shag gown trimmed with gold buttons and I also remember that he had a blister or issue upon his neck that troubled him a little. The room was all red, as if a smallpox victim did sometimes lie in it, for it is said that this colour draws out the infection. It was well furnished with several landscapes upon the red walls and a fine globe that occupied a whole corner by the window, as if this room was all the universe there was and he the god in it, for he struck me as a most wise-looking man. His nose was all bridge, as across the Tiber, and his eyes which were quiet in repose became as sharp as bodkins the minute his brow furrowed under the concentration of a thought or a question. His mouth looked fastidious, as if he lacked appetite and humour, and his dimpled chin was on the edge of finding itself joined by a twin. And when he spoke, he spoke with an accent I should incorrectly have supposed to be Norfolk but now know to have been Lincolnshire, for he was born near Grantham. That day I met him first he was just a month or so short of his fifty-fourth birthday.

"It is not my manner," he said, "to speak anything that is extraneous to my business. So let me come straight to the point, Mister Ellis. When I became Warden of His Majesty's Mint I little thought that my life should become taken up with the detection, pursuit and punishment of coiners, clippers and coun-

terfeiters. But that being my discovery, I wrote to the Treasury Committee to the effect that such matters were the proper province of the Solicitor General and that if it were possible, to let this cup pass from me. Their Lordships willed it otherwise, however, and therefore I must stand the course. Indeed, I have made this matter my own personal crusade, for if the Great Recoinage does not succeed, I fear that we shall lose this war with the French and the whole kingdom shall be undone. God knows I have, these past six months, in my own person done my full duty, I am sure. But the business of my taking these rascals is so great, there being so many of them, I find I have sore need of a clerk to assist me in my duties.

"But I want no truckle-head milksop in my service. God knows what disorders we may fall into and whether any violence may be done on this office or upon our persons, for coining being high treason carries the harshest penalty and these miscreants are a desperate lot. You look like a young man of spirit, sir. But speak up and recommend yourself."

"I do believe," I said nervously, because Newton sounded very like my own father who always expected the worse of me, and usually he was not disappointed, "that I should say something to you in reference to my education, sir. I have my degree from Oxford. And I have studied for the Law."

"Good, good," Newton said impatiently. "Likely you will need a quick pen. These mimming rogues are agile storytellers and provide such a quantity of deposition as would leave a man feeling in need of three hands. But let us have less modesty, sir. What of your other skills?"

I searched myself for an answer. What other skills did I possess? And finding myself at a loss for words, with little or nothing to commend myself further, I began to grimace and shake my head and shrug, and started to sweat like I was in the hot steam baths.

"Come, sir," insisted Newton. "Did you not pink a man with your rapier?"

"Yes sir," I stammered, angry with my brother for having apprised him of this awkward fact. For who else could have told him?

"Excellent." Newton knocked the table once as if keeping score. "And a keen shot, I see." Perceiving my puzzlement, he added, "Is that not a gunpowder-spot on your right hand?"

"Yes sir. And you're right. I shoot both carbine and pistol, tolerably well."

"But you are better with the pistol, I'll warrant."

"Did my brother tell you that, too?"

"No, Mister Ellis. Your own hand told me. A carbine would have left its mark on hand and face. But a pistol only upon the back of your hand, which did lead me to suppose that you have used a pistol with greater frequency."

"Well, that's a nice trick, sir. I am trumped."

"I have others here besides. Doubtless we shall have to visit many a kennel where your apparent fondness for the ladies may serve us good advantage. Women will sometimes tell a young man that which they would deny my older ears. I trust that your fondness for the dark-haired woman you were so recently with might permit such stratagems as would gain us information. Perhaps she was the one who did bring you the juniper ale."

"Well, if that isn't Pam," I proclaimed, quite trumped by this, for I had indeed embraced a wench with brown hair that very morning over breakfast at my local tavern. "How did you know she was dark? And that I had some juniper ale?"

"By virtue of the long dark hair that adorns your handsome ventre d'or waistcoat," explained Newton. "It proclaims her colouring just as surely as your conversation demonstrates your close acquaintance with the card table. We shall have need of that, too. As much as we shall have need of a man who likes his bottle. If I am not wrong, sir, that is red wine on your cuffs. No doubt you had a good deal of it to drink last night, which is why you were a little sick in your stomach this morning. And why you had need of some juniper ale for your gripes. The smell of that pungent oil in ale upon your breath is most unmistakable."

I heard myself gasp with astonishment that so much of me was plain to him, as if he could see into my mind and read my own thoughts.

"You make me sound the most consummate rakehell that was ever drawn to the gallows," I protested. "I know not what to say. I am quite outhuffed."

From the Hardcover edition.

Copyright 2002 by Philip Kerr
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Reading Group Guide

I swore not to tell this story while Newton was still alive.

1696, young Christopher Ellis is sent to the Tower of London, but not as a prisoner. Though Ellis is notoriously hotheaded and was caught fighting an illegal duel, he arrives at the Tower as assistant to the renowned scientist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton is Warden of the Royal Mint, which resides within the Tower walls, and he has accepted an appointment from the King of England and Parliament to investigate and prosecute counterfeiters whose false coins threaten to bring down the shaky, war-weakened economy. Ellis may lack Newton's scholarly mind, but he is quick with a pistol and proves himself to be an invaluable sidekick and devoted apprentice to Newton as they zealously pursue these criminals.

While Newton and Ellis investigate a counterfeiting ring, they come upon a mysterious coded message on the body of a man killed in the Lion Tower, as well as alchemical symbols that indicate this was more than just a random murder. Despite Newton's formidable intellect, he is unable to decipher the cryptic message or any of the others he and Ellis find as the body count increases within the Tower complex. As they are drawn into a wild pursuit of the counterfeiters that takes them from the madhouse of Bedlam to the squalid confines of Newgate prison and back to the Tower itself, Newton and Ellis discover that the counterfeiting is only a small part of a larger, more dangerous plot, one that reaches to the highest echelons of power and nobility and threatens much more than the collapse of the economy.

Dark Matter is the lastest masterwork of suspense from Philip Kerr, the internationally bestsellingand brilliantly innovative thriller writer who has dazzled readers with his imaginative, fast-paced novels. Like An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose, and Kerr's own Berlin Noir trilogy, Dark Matter is historical mystery at its finest, an extraordinary, suspense-filled journey through the shadowy streets and back alleys of London with the brilliant Newton and his faithful protégé. The haunted Tower with its bloody history is the perfect backdrop for this richly satisfying tale, one that introduces an engrossing mystery into the volatile mix of politics, science, and religion that characterized life in seventeenth-century London.

From the Hardcover edition.

1. The theme of decoding permeates the novel. As Newton and Ellis investigate the third murder, Newton observes, "All of nature is a cipher, and all of science a secret writing that must be unravelled by men who would understand the mystery of things." And in the prologue, Ellis notes, "Newton looked upon all of creation as a riddle…I think he believed that a man who might decipher an earthly code might similarly fathom the heavenly one." By the end of the novel, how much progress has each man made by way of decoding? Has Ellis decoded Newton? Has Newton gotten any closer to deciphering the "heavenly code"?

2. Upon meeting Ellis, Newton instantly launches into a James Bond-esque sizing-up, deducing that Ellis is talented with both rapier and pistol, plays cards, has had too much red wine the night before, and has recently been intimate with a dark-haired woman with whom he'd drunk juniper ale—a feat that flusters Ellis and provides comic relief in the narrative. Where else in the story do we see Newton being purposefully sly and funny? Do these moments alter your perception of him?

3. What charade do Ellis and Newton pull off in order to extract information from Oates? What knowledge do they gain from him? How does it affect what they do next?

4. After Newton and Ellis chat about Newton's discoveries concerning gravity, Ellis breaks away from the story to note, "In all respects he was a paragon, a human touchstone that might try gold, or good from bad." Does this starry-eyed admiration shift in the course of the novel? Ellis goes on to witness Newton's seeming heartlessness, his facility with lying, even his apparent willingness to trade his niece's virtue for his own career advancement. Do these things change Ellis' opinion of the master?

5. What is the significance of Twistleton's mysterious utterance, "Blood is behind everything. Once you understand that, you understand all that has happened"?

6. Newton introduces Ellis to the use of prisms and the principles of refraction and refrangibility. Why? What is the metaphor here? How does Ellis act as a "prism" in the course of events that follows?

7. Halfway through the novel, Ellis realizes that he has lost his faith. "It was Newton's mathematics that reduced the cosmos to a series of algebraic calculations, while his damned prisms ripped apart God's rainbow covenant with Noah. How could God remain in heavens that were so keenly observed through a telescope and precisely described as a series of fluxions?" Ironically, Newton does not seem tormented by a similar conflict. How does he merge his faith and his science? Is the science/faith conflict pertinent in today's world? Where do you see it played out?

8. How does Newton accomplish his dream of besting Rene Descartes?

9. The dramatic backdrop of this story is the Tower, where coiners and soldiers are perpetually at odds due to the Recoinage Act of 1696, which has forced them to share the space. What does Ellis mean when he says, "The Tower was more than just a prison and a place of safety to mint the coin; it was also a state of mind, an attitude that affected all who came into contact with its walls"?

10. Ellis's condition for working with Newton is that Newton "will always correct my ignorance." Does Newton do a good job of this? By the end, what has Newton taught Ellis, and in what ways has he left Ellis more confused than enlightened?

11. Who are the Templars? How do they figure into the Huguenot plot of revenge against Catholics? What do Newton and Ellis do with the information about the Templars that Mister Pepys gives them?

12. Newton has a close call with the authorities when he is summoned to appear before the Lords Justices to defend himself against allegations that he is a heretic. How does he debunk Count Gaetano's charges? Why is the Count's derisive comment about the Dutch a mistake?

13. What do you make of Newton? Is he a likeable character? Do you trust him? Do you think he really believes his maxim that "true knowledge is the greatest treasure of all"? What do you make of his relationship with his niece?

14. Why does Ellis say that he swore not to tell this story while Newton was alive? Why does he reject the analogy of Newton leaving behind a golden thread "by which we may find our way through God's labyrinth," in favor of the harsher image of a chasm or abyss, "into which Newton, by virtue of his system of the world and falling bodies and mathematics and chronology, lowers us upon a rope…"?

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Customer Reviews

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 80 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2012

    Best book

    This book is a really good book and those of you who havent read the first one it is a must read!!!!!!!!!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 1, 2011

    Great Book!!!

    Dicey's Song by Cynthia Voigt is a powerful story. The Tillerman children are inspiring and Dicey, the main character, represents the person we should all strive to be as a brother or sister. The author, Cynthia Voigt tells their story as they struggle to make ends meet and establish themselves in their new home at their grandmother's house, with such talent. Though the end may be a little predictable in leading up to it, once there, it is impossible to keep the tears back. Ultimately, Voigt teaches what it is to keep a family together, working and supporting one another. Dicey's Song is an excellent book and is highly recommended to read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2011

    Best book ever

    I love the book i read the first one now in going to read this one i cant wait

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 7, 2010


    I read the first book- Homecoming- and loved it so much that i couldn't wait to read the the second book. It immediately absorbed me and it was hard to stop reading. The book takes you on the wild journey of a 13 year old girl who has traveled cross-country with her siblings, and found a home with their grandmother. The book shows you the trials of learning to be dependent after living independent for so long. As she goes through school, and gets a job, she comes to hear some grave news. Her mother has died. She and her grandmother go to cremate Dicey's mother, while Dicey's sister, Maybeth, has a hidden talent for piano that is discovered. She gets a wonderful piano teacher that really helps the family out. The book was very intriguing and it made me want to keep reading, and keep reading. I cant wait to read the next book in the series!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 18, 1999


    This book was a great book.We read it in school and I first thought it was going to be boring,but until I read it, I just wanted to read it all over again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2015

    Dicey¿s Song Dicey, Maybeth, James, and Sammy Tillerman got aba

    Dicey’s Song
    Dicey, Maybeth, James, and Sammy Tillerman got abandoned by their mother at the beginning of the summer. They traveled long and far before finally getting to their grandmother’s house where they are now. Dicey soon gets a job and makes a friend named Mina. Maybeth is having trouble learning how to read but her music teacher thinks that she would be great at piano and Maybeth turns out to be amazing. Dicey has to give up a big chunk of her salary though to pay for the lessons. Dicey starts having trouble letting their grandmother plan and pay for items. They end up getting a call about their mother from an asylum saying that she will not wake up from her sleep. Dicey must learn to let go and reach out to others. 
    I give this book three stars because it is not as interesting in the beginning because there was not a big conflict. There are also not a lot of events throughout the whole book. It is not as important to read the first book Homecoming because she explained what happened fairly well. Overall I thought this book was okay because it was written well, I just wish that more events happened.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 8, 2013


    If you like Caroline B. Cooneys books, this book is definitely one for you! The author has the same talent for writing how people think, and all of the characters are easy to relate to.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 12, 2013

    To have not read this book yet...

    Homecoming was amazing! Me and my friends were reading it for our book club, it gave us lots to talk about!!!!! I am so thinking about getting this one!!!! :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012


    Discriptive language too good to put down :)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012


    Very well written. I recommend this book to all people! Cynthia Voigt is a great author. I already finished Homecoming, (the first book in the Tillerman Cycle), and I can't wait until the whole series comes out in Nook version. It is definitely one of my favorites. Read it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2012


    This is absolutley posotively 5 starts thumbs up. It follows the book Homecoming and to give a breif summary about the first book. Four kids, Dicey,13,James,10,Maybeth,9,and Sammy,6, who got abanoded by their mother in a mall parking lot. Left to fend for themselves the kids have to make it from the top of Conneticut to the bottom of Maryland WALKING!!!!!!!! With only a few dollars they made it to their grandma's house. Getting there she didn't want them only letting them stay for the night. Staying longer and rubbing off on her are allowed to stay.
    In this bookk it is about the day to day struglles. A pageturner mind blowing book. This is a must read for a book that can be read fast. The kids have newlives at a new school. Having to let go of everything she had always know and trusted Dicey becomes worried she can't and is dobtful about her grandma being able to do this. The other kids are making new freinds and getting invited to parties. Doingwell for the most part at school, the kids are getting good grades. One day in Dicey's class they had a project to do. Hoping to do it by herself Dicey gets to work. After getting nudged several time Dicey turns around to a warm smile of the other smartest girl in class. Wanting to work together Dicey agrees and they ace the project. The next day after class the girl awaited to walk Dicey to her next class. Dicey cold on the outside kept turning it down. The girl keeps it up and to find out the rest get the book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2012

    I <3 this

    Cynthia voigt rocks!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2011

    Havent read this book yet but ...........

    I really love homecoming by cynthia voigt. I got it for christmas and I am only on page 51but i am luving it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2011

    Like the book

    I really like this book :)

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  • Posted October 18, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A story about responsibility and survival.

    Dicey is the best older sister anyone could possibly want. She taught me so much about life--about people more specifically. I was amazed that one so young would realize these things AND use it to improve the quality of their lives. Her determination to do the right thing -- NO MATTER WHAT! hit me right in the heart. Her resourcefulness is astounding. I actually went out and bought the sequel to see how it continued. (That's a first for me!) It made me review my 'parenting skills,' to see how they matched up to hers.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2008

    Dicey's Song

    The Tillermans have just settled into Gram's in Crisfield, Maryland. Dicey, the eldest child has trouble letting Gram be in charge of the kids. All her life Dicey has been the one to take care of them and now she has to let go but still hold on. There are also new problems emerging. Momma's still in the hospital and Sammy is fighting again. Read Dicey's Song to learn more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2008

    An Excellent Book!!

    Dicey's song was a really good book. I wanted to keep on reading and reading until i finished it because I wanted to know what would happen next. Anyone could read it. Its about this young girl who has to take care of her siblings and live with her grandmother that everyone says she crazy but not and she hardly knows. She doesn't live with her mother because her mother didnt want to take care of them anymore and the 4 kids had to live on there own for a long time. thats what happened in homecoming and then it added on more about finding and living with there grandmother. They end up being really happy and love living there. Its everything they like and need. They become really close with there grandmother. They find out there mother is in a mental hospital and she soon dies...you have to read homecoming first to understand Dicey's Song.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2008

    Should be a movie!(AND HOMECOMING TOO)

    This book is so good but it still makes me cry.I wonder how momma went like that it makes so sad because she died. Read this book it'll change your life. Dicey is a really good person because she takes care of her siblings, and she is smart and thinks about others and herself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2007

    Dicey's Song

    This is a very emotional story that will capture your heart. As a thirteen year old girl Dicey must deal with a lot after her mother leaves her and her siblings. They must adjust to living with their grandmother. Dicey says, ¿I have the feeling that I know who I am, only I¿m not any more.¿ You must read this book to find out if Dicey ever learns to deal with her mother¿s absence and life with her grandmother. This book was a Newbery Medal Book. This book is a realistic novel and would be appropriate for ages 12 and up. This is a situation that could really happen to a child and this would be a great book to help them deal with such circumstances. I really enjoyed reading this book. Cynthia Voigt is the author of Dicey¿s Song. Before Ms. Voigt became an author she was an English teacher. This book is part of a series of books written by Ms. Voigt. She has won many awards for both her children¿s books and her young adult books. Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey¿s Song. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2007

    I admire Dicey for her courage and dedication.

    Cynthia Voigt was born in Boston in 1942 and grew up in Connecticut. After she attended college, she swore that she would not become a teacher. On the other hand, she could not help it and did become a teacher. Her dream was to become a writer, but she had to hold off on her dream until she got married and started teaching. When her son was born, she found time to write. She loves to read and watch movies. Her book, Dicey¿s Song, won the Newbery Medal in 1983. A lot of her books are based on real places. Voigt said, ¿Dicey is the child she would have liked to have been and Gram is the person she would like to become. The reading level of this book is fifth grade, eighth month. Some themes of the book include love, family, commitment, integrity, and excellence. The genre of the book is realistic fiction. It is a story of trying to hold but let go at the same time. In the book, it says, 'But I'll tell you something else, too. Something I've learned, the hard way. I guess'¿Gram laughed a little¿'I'm the kind of person who has to learn things the hard way. You've got to hold on. Hold on to people. They can get away from you. It's not always going to be fun, but if you don't¿hold on¿then you lose them.' Gram lost her husband and all of her children left and never came back. She was alone and nobody there to talk to. Momma walked out on the children so Dicey, James, Sammy, and Marybeth end up at Gram¿s house. Dicey has had to watch the younger siblings and she wants to be selfish by re-doing a sailboat she had found in Gram¿s barn. Their problems and sorrows did not go away easily. They had to learn all about one another and Gram ends up adopting them. Dicey begins to grow a strong bond with Gram, who talks about reaching out and letting go it takes a crisis for Dicey to finally understand what Gram meant. Read the book to find out how Dicey reveals this mystery. Dicey¿s Song is an incredible book. It teaches about commitment and the bonds of family. Dicey is a girl I admire because she does everything to try and help her family out and she does not care how she does it. It takes courage from Dicey and support of Gram to keep this family together. It is truly an amazing story. I loved it. Voigt, Cynthia. Dicey¿s Song. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 1982.

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