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Starred Review, School Library Journal, May 2012:
“Advanced younger readers…will find great joy in this Victorian detective novel with a sophisticated writing style.”
Review, The New York Times Book Review, May 13, 2012:
“[His stories] prove to be a hoot.”
“It’s not fair,” Bridie said when they reached the Waxworks. “Whoever gave Dippy that snide sixpence knew they were cheating.”
“It’s not fair not letting him be a waxwork either,” Benny said. “All them waxworks in the Museum, all they done was murder people and discover America and be Kings and Queens and that. Where’s the justice in that? I bet if Dippy was a victim of the Death of a Thousand Cuts, they’d put him in, all right.”
“There’s not enough of Dippy to make a thousand bits,” said Bridie.
Benny scowled at the closed door of the Waxwork Museum.
“We’ll get Dippy in there if it’s the last thing we do,” he said.
When Benny’s expression was set like that, the rest of the gang knew better than to argue with him. The others left him there, frowning Napoleonically, and walked home towards Clayton Terrace.
“I wouldn’t mind putting one over that Professor who owns the Waxworks,” said Bridie. “He slung me and Sharky out last July.”
“I bet I can guess why,” said Thunderbolt.
“Well, it was only a little finger off one of the blokes being tortured in the Chamber of Horrors, and he’d lost a lot more than that already. Ye’d hardly notice.”
“What did it taste like, Sharky?”
“Nice,” said Sharky Bob stolidly.
“And the Professor made us pay for it, and I had a threepenny bit, and he took it all. I bet that’s enough for a whole arm.”
They walked on through the gathering mist, which was making the gaslights look like dandelion heads.
“I hope Dippy doesn’t get another snide sixpence,” said Thunderbolt.
“Ma got one in the butcher’s yesterday,” said Bridie. “Ye should have heard her cursing. Hey, is that yer pa down there?”
They were outside Number Fifteen, where Thunderbolt and his pa lived on the ground floor and Bridie and the rest of her large family lived upstairs. Bridie was peering down into the “area,” the little space in front of the basement window, where an eerie glow was flickering through the grimy window onto the damp bricks.
“Yeah,” said Thunderbolt. “He’s making something new. I dunno what it is, ’cause it’s a trade secret.”
Mr. Dobney was in the novelty-and-fancy-gifts trade. He made candlesticks that looked like dragons, pipe-cleaner dispensers that looked like dog kennels, soda-water-bottle holders that swiveled round on a turntable, and all kinds of ingenious devices. His latest line was a combined glove holder and dog whistle, but for some reason there was no demand for them, and they hadn’t sold at all. So he’d rented the basement specially and started making a new line, only Thunderbolt wasn’t allowed to know what it was. All he did know was that it involved electricity: Pa had lugged a lot of heavy batteries and coils of wire down there, and occasional flashes and electrical humming sounds came out from behind the closed door.
“I better get in,” said Thunderbolt. “Put his tea on.”
“I likes tea,” said Sharky Bob. “I likes biscuits and all.”
“Yeah, Sharky, we know,” said Bridie. “What ye got for yer tea, then?”
“A couple of herrings,” said Thunderbolt.
“How ye going to cook ’em?”
“Dunno. Boil ’em, I suppose. They’re only a kind of kipper, and you boil kippers.”
Bridie shook her head in exasperation. “I better show ye.”
Thunderbolt had been looking after his pa for nearly a year now, and Mr. Dobney had never complained yet. Thunderbolt felt a bit put out by Bridie’s contempt for his cooking, but he let her storm into the kitchen and bang about till she found the frying pan. She was about to put it on the range when she recoiled, and held it under the lamplight to look more closely.
“What in the world’ve ye been cooking in this?” she said, picking disgustedly at some tarlike substance on the bottom.
“Toffee, I think,” said Thunderbolt, trying to remember. “That was when Pa thought of going into the toffee-apple trade and he was trying to find a cheap way of making toffee. He used fish oil instead of butter, only it didn’t set properly . . .”
Bridie put down the frying pan and found a skillet. “This’ll do,” she said. “Give us the herrings and a knife and find me some salt.”
She slid the knife deftly up and down and scraped out some fascinating strings and blobs of fish innards. Sharky Bob stopped licking the frying pan and reached for them automatically, and she slapped his hand away.
“Right, now what ye do is make the skillet hot and scatter it with a big spoon of salt and lay the fishes on it. They’re oily enough to sizzle by theirselves without any grease. What’re ye reading?”
She laid the herrings where Sharky couldn’t reach them, tucked a strand of curly red hair behind her ear, and peered at the open books on the table.
“Me homework,” Thunderbolt explained. “We got to copy out and learn ten words out the dictionary, together with what they mean.”
“Aardvark,” read Bridie. “An edentate insectivorous quadruped. Well, that’s helpful, I’m sure. Ambergris: fatty substance of a marmoriform or striated appearance exuded from the intestines of the sperm whale, and highly esteemed by perfumers. Yuchh. Asbestos: a fine fibrous amphibole of chrysotile, capable of incombustibility . . . What in the world does all that mean?”
“Oh, we don’t have to know what it means. Only what it says.”
“And that’s what ye get up to in school? Catch me going,” said Bridie, removing the frying pan from Sharky Bob. “Come on, Shark, time to go. Bye, Thunderbolt.”
Thunderbolt said goodbye, stirred up the fire and put another few lumps of coal on it, brought the lamp to the table, and sat down to finish his homework.
Posted November 20, 2012
This is literally a book about two criminals, as told in two different stories. And it has been a joy to read about the children of the New Cut Gang and their adventures. The two primary characters are Benny, the leader, and Thunderbolt, a smart kid nicknamed as such after he knocked down a member of another gang.
The members of the New Cut Gang have distinct, merry personalities. The key characters all take a turn at telling their part of the story as needed for the plot to move forward, and it was a pleasure getting to know all of them from Benny and his hyper-active imagination to Thunderbolt's timid nature to the twins and their cleverness.
In fact, each member of the gang is a bit too clever for their own good. They get no amusement from school and instead spend their time searching for adventure. When cases pop up that spark their interest, they will go to all lengths of trouble getting involved, solving detective cases to protect the innocent and getting mixed up in a case of "love phobia" to win a bet.
Readers of all ages will enjoy the misadventures of the New Cut Gang. While told in a different style than Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, the fact remains that Pullman is a brilliant storyteller. Two Crafty Criminals has humor, odd heros, and action. I highly recommend reading it if you're looking for a fun read.
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