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The Black Book of Secrets
     

The Black Book of Secrets

4.0 34
by F. E. Higgins
 

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A boy arrives at a remote village in the dead of night. His name is Ludlow Fitch—and he is running from a most terrible past. What he is about to learn is that in this village is the life he has dreamed of—a safe place to live, and a job, as the assistant to a mysterious pawnbroker who trades people's deepest, darkest secrets for cash. Ludlow's job is

Overview

A boy arrives at a remote village in the dead of night. His name is Ludlow Fitch—and he is running from a most terrible past. What he is about to learn is that in this village is the life he has dreamed of—a safe place to live, and a job, as the assistant to a mysterious pawnbroker who trades people's deepest, darkest secrets for cash. Ludlow's job is to neatly transcribe the confessions in an ancient leather-bound tome: The Black Book of Secrets.

Ludlow yearns to trust his mentor, who refuses to disclose any information on his past experiences or future intentions. What the pawnbroker does not know is, in a town brimming with secrets, the most troubling may be held by his new apprentice.

Editorial Reviews

Elizabeth Ward
This enticingly titled first novel is hardly flawless: Its point of view is wobbly, it flirts with melodrama, and it bristles with stage villains. But pre-teens who enjoy historically based fantasy—the story is purportedly set centuries back but reeks of Dickensian England—will find The Black Book of Secrets, thoroughly rewarding.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This polished debut from a British writer tantalizingly blends secrets and thick, evocative atmosphere. In an indeterminate, grim past (think Dickensian squalor by way of a Broadway stage set), the boy Ludlow Fitch flees the City, "a stinking place undeserving of a name," and his parents, who have betrayed him for the last time. Chance (or is it destiny?) leads him to remote Pagus Parvus and to another newcomer, Joe Zabbidou, who sets himself up as a pawnbroker. But Zabbidou has a sideline: he pays good money for secrets. One by one the villagers come to him at midnight to unburden themselves-and they spill some doozies. The undertaker has dug up corpses, to be sold to a medical school; the butcher served his father a pie of rat, mouse, beetles and worms. As Ludlow inscribes the secrets in Zabbidou's Black Book, he fights down his suspicions of Zabbidou even as he joins the villagers in their hatred of Jeremiah Ratchet, the wealthy villain to blame for their misery and evil deeds. Higgins, framing her book as texts discovered in a hollowed wooden leg, expertly sustains the audience's curiosity, revealing just enough information to keep readers riveted. And for all the grisly details, the novel gets at important themes about self-determination and trust. Original and engrossing. Ages 9-12. (Oct.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Rachelle Bilz
Raised by his drunken, avaricious parents to be a pickpocket, Ludlow Fitch manages to run away on the night that Ma and Pa try to sell his teeth. After a mad chase through the City, Ludlow escapes to the mountain village of Pagus Parvus by desperately clinging to the back of a carriage. Thus begins an intriguing blend of adventure and historical fiction spiced with a light touch of the fantastic. Arriving in Pargus Parvus late at night, Ludlow spies a lone man walking in the bitter cold and follows him to an abandoned shop. Ludlow, caught peeking through the window, is invited inside by Joe Zabbidou who describes himself as "the Secret Pawnbroker." Although Ludlow has no idea what it might mean, he accepts Joe's offer of a job as his apprentice. The villagers begin bringing items to sell and some get specially invited back for a midnight appointment. With Ludlow acting as scribe, the citizens of Pagus Parvus sell their secrets to Joe, confessing evil deeds and nasty affairs. The villagers initially like Joe but are turned against him by nasty Jeremiah Ratchet, the wealthiest man in town. Higgins creates a fascinating novel peopled with colorful characters and imbued with clever plot twists. The reader's interest is sustained throughout the book, and the novel's climax is both excellent and surprising. This book appears to be the first in a series, good news for junior and senior high students who appreciate a well-spun tale.
VOYA
Ludlow Fitch is a young city boy who finally escapes his thieving, lowlife parents and arrives at a small, mountain-top village to begin a new life. Fitch becomes the scribe for a pawnbroker of secrets-Joe Zabbidou buys secrets. In doing so, Joe and Fitch find out everything about the insular world of Pagus Parvus. In a world of Resurrectionists, chimneysweeps, and evil landlords, Fitch finds safety, magic, and quiet happiness with his new master. Higgins writes her debut novel as if she found Fitch's memoirs and Zabbidou's Black Book of Secrets, and the device works. Fitch is the classic Dickensian adolescent boy, who is raised by horrible parents and must choose a better, more honest life. By adding the villager's tales in the Black Book, Higgins creates fascinating characters who add depth to the plot. The author should have saved the last few chapters for a sequel-the end wrapped up too nicely. One chapter does not seem to fit with the rest of the novel, with a little too much fantasy thrown in when the rest of the book is almost a historical fiction novel with incredible characters. The book has beautiful black-edged pages, and if it were not for the illustration of the young boy on the cover, the spooky cover would draw in older readers. Reviewer: Sarah Hill
Children's Literature
Nothing in my miserable life could possibly be as bad as what is about to happen, Ludlow Fitch declares as his teeth are about to be removed solely to subsidize his parents’ greed. Ludlow fights back and escapes, sneaking a ride out of town. The carriage belongs to a wealthy tyrant named Jeremiah Ratchet, who is hated and feared by the entire village. When the carriage stops, Ludlow meets a mysterious but friendly man named Joe, who is also new to town. Joe gives Ludlow food, shelter and a job transcribing townspeople’s secrets. The first secret belongs to the gravedigger, Obadiah. Like most of his fellow townspeople, Obadiah owes impossible amounts of money to Jeremiah. Unable to get out of debt, he has been forced to dig up the bodies he has recently buried, so that Jeremiah can sell them to medical schools. When Obadiah tries to refuse, Jeremiah blackmail him. (After all, bodysnatching is punishable by death.) After unburdening his secret, Obadiah receives both a clean conscience and enough money to finally clear his debt with Jeremiah. And so it goes from one villager after another: Joe pays for each secret, and the villagers are able to pay Jeremiah. It seems like a win-win situation, until suddenly the townspeople grow suspicious of Joe. They turn on him and Ludlow … Higgins’ debut novel is a page-turning mystery brimming with humor and originality. The ending hints of a sequel, which is good news for anyone lucky enough to read this unusual and absorbing book. Reviewer: Naomi Milliner
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8- A secret pawnbroker, Joe Zabbidou pays for secrets, and everyone has one. Ludlow Fitch, escaping his parents' efforts to sell the teeth from his mouth, meets Joe in the desolate mountain village of Pagus Parvus. It is an ideal place for Joe as miserly Jeremiah Ratchet uses people's transgressions to blackmail and cheat them. Joe offers young Ludlow a job transcribing confessions into Joe's Black Book. Desperate individuals declare they are grave robbers, thieves, even murderers, and are freed by their confessions. As folk unburden their secrets, mass hatred for Ratchet begins to foment, and later Joe himself becomes a target. A tightly woven novel, Black Book grabs readers from the first image of Ludlow protecting his vulnerable teeth. The author uses the device of claiming to have found extracts of Joe's book and Ludlow's memoirs, bridging the gaps with her imagination. The shifting perspective slows the action considerably. That said, Higgins employs visceral imagery (rat pies, wives buried alive) as well as Rembrandt-like contrasts of light and dark to illuminate the loneliness of wealth and despair. Add to this a dollop of suspense and the intriguing idea that fear of our own actions is our greatest enemy, and the result is an unusual, compelling read. Readers who like Sharon Shinn or Megan Whalen Turner will love this unique novel.-Caitlin Augusta, The Darien Library, CT

Kirkus Reviews
Higgins's Dickensian debut features an opening scene that is both literally and figuratively gripping, plus an intriguing premise-but only about a short story's worth of plot, and that's riddled with gaps of logic. He frames his tale as chapters from two old volumes somehow stored in a wooden leg, plus frequent departures into other points of view to fill in gaps. It alternates between memoirs of young Ludlow Fitch, a lad who narrowly escapes his gin-soaked parents' attempt to have his teeth extracted for sale and then falls in with itinerant pawnbroker/psychotherapist Joe Zabbidou, and the confessions of several patients-most involving murders or other dark deeds-as recorded in Zabbidou's titular tome. Having engineered an ugly end for a particularly despicable villain, Zabbidou ultimately takes Fitch to a huge underground library where the ledger of confessions is shelved with thousands of others (how it came to be in that leg remains unexplained), and Fitch gets a clean, new one of his very own. Though set in an alternate universe, the tale closes with historical notes on the Victorian-style horrors mentioned or committed. The parts don't hang together at all, but readers may enjoy many of them individually. (Fantasy. 11-13)
From the Publisher
“Wonderful. Anyone looking for the next big thing has come to the right place. Higgins has created a uniquely grim fantasy world that more than holds its own with Dickens or Peake. Her characters are brilliantly realized and the story grabs at the reader with hooked talons.” —Eoin Colfer

“This polished debut from a British writer tantalizingly blends secrets and thick, evocative atmosphere . . . Higgins, framing her book as texts discovered in a hallowed wooden leg, expertly sustains the audience's curiosity, revealing just enough information to keep readers riveted. And for all the grisly details, the novel gets at important themes about self-determination and trust. Original and engrossing.” —Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“The story's vaguely Dickensian atmosphere is exquisite . . . A tantalizingly revelatory ending leaves at least one thread dangling for future volumes (which are sure to evoke more picaresque oddities and nefarious tales), making this a smart, peculiarly thrilling book that is sure to appeal to readers ready to sidestep the goodygoody Harry Potters of adventure fiction.” —Booklist, Starred Review

“Higgins's debut begins with a bang—on the streets of a London as dark as in any Dickens novel—and ends in a mysterious cave, with no let-up in pacing from start to finish . . . One of Higgins's great achievements is the way she manages to convey a degree of innocence in Ludlow despite his harsh life surviving the city streets. Redemption emerges as a strong theme in the book, as she reveals the complexities of human nature, and she leaves open several mysteries (including the history behind a wooden leg and Joe's prized pet frog). Readers can only hope for many more black books filled with secrets.” —Shelf Awareness

“Pre-teens who enjoy historically based fantasy . . . will find The Black Book of Secrets thoroughly rewarding.” —The Washington Post

“. . . will keep readers on the edge of their seats.” —Scripps Howard News Service

“There can be few more nightmarish openings than that of The Black Book of Secrets . . . A beguiling mix of gothic fairy tale and Dalhesque macabre for 9-13-year-olds.” —The Telegraph (UK)

“Higgins creates a fascinating novel peopled with colorful characters and imbued with clever plot twists . . . the novel's climax is both excellent and surprising.” —Voice of Youth Advocates

“Higgins's fine writing and wry tale will charm readers who are ready for the unusual . . . like the film Chocolat . . . a stranger enters a town and changes the lives there forever, all from the confines of a small shop, this time a pawnbroker's place.” —KLIATT

“The resolution, as tidy a piece of plotting as can be imagined, not only collects all the plot threads but leads to the deeper revelation of who Joe is and why he plies such a curious trade. Strongly seasoned with details of nineteenth-century oddities, the story abounds with puzzles, quirks, and enticing disclosures.” —The Horn Book

“While Ludlow & Co. do live in an alternate reality, there are many details about life in the late 1800s that readers of historical fiction will enjoy—especially those who like reading about the more gruesome, less well-known details, like stealing and selling teeth, grave robbers, body snatchers and Sweeney Todd.” —Bookshelves of Doom

“I thought this book was outstanding. It's a horror book with lots of mystery. I would give it four stars.” —Jennifer Hopkins, age 11, in The Washington Times

starred review Booklist
The story's vaguely Dickensian atmosphere is exquisite . . . A tantalizingly revelatory ending leaves at least one thread dangling for future volumes (which are sure to evoke more picaresque oddities and nefarious tales), making this a smart, peculiarly thrilling book that is sure to appeal to readers ready to sidestep the goodygoody Harry Potters of adventure fiction.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781429930802
Publisher:
Feiwel & Friends
Publication date:
07/20/2010
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
326,957
File size:
420 KB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Black Book of Secrets


By F.E. Higgins

Macmillan

Copyright © 2007 F. E. Higgins
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-3080-2


CHAPTER 1

Fragment from The Memoirs of Ludlow Fitch


When I opened my eyes I knew that nothing in my miserable life prior to that moment could possibly be as bad as what was about to happen. I was lying on the cold earthen floor of a basement room lit by a single candle, no more than an hour's burning left. Instruments of a medical nature hung from hooks in the beams. Dark stains on the floor suggested blood. But it was the chair against the opposite wall that fully confirmed my suspicions. Thick leather straps attached to the arms and the legs were there for one purpose only: to hold down an unwilling patient. Ma and Pa were standing over me.

"'E's awake," crowed Ma excitedly.

Pa dragged me to my feet. He had me in an iron grip, my arm wrenched up behind my back. Ma held me by the hair. I looked from one to the other. Their grinning faces were only inches away from mine. I knew I should not look to them to save me.

Another man, concealed until now in the shadows, stepped forward and took me by the chin. He forced open my mouth and ran a blackened, foul-tasting finger around my gums.

"How much?" asked Pa, drooling with anticipation.

"Not bad," said the man. "Thrupence apiece. Maybe twelve in all."

"It's a deal," said Pa. "Who needs teeth anyway?"

"Someone, I hope," replied the man dryly. "I sell 'em for a living."

And they laughed, all three, Ma and Pa and Barton Gumbroot, the notorious tooth surgeon of Old Goat's Alley.

Once the money for my teeth was agreed with Barton, they moved quickly. Together they dragged me over to the surgeon's chair. I kicked and shouted and spat and bit; I wasn't going to make it easy for them. I knew how Barton Gumbroot made his living, preying on the poor, pulling their teeth, paying them pennies and selling them for ten times as much. I was racked with fear. I had no protection. I was going to feel it all. Every single nerve-stabbing twinge.

They came close to succeeding in their evil quest. Ma was struggling with a buckle around my ankle, her hands shaking from the previous day's drinking, while Pa was trying to hold me down. Barton Gumbroot, that loathsome monster, was just hovering with his gleaming tooth-pull, snapping it open and shut, open and shut, tittering and salivating. I believe to this day his greatest pleasure in life was inflicting pain on others. So much so that he couldn't wait any longer, and before I knew it I could feel the cold metal of his instrument of torture clamped around a front tooth. He braced himself with his leg on my chest and began to pull. I cannot describe to you the pain that shot through my skull, my brain, and every nerve end in my body. It felt as if my whole head were being wrenched off. The tooth moved slightly in my jaw and another white-hot shooting pain exploded behind my eyes. All the while Ma and Pa laughed like maniacs.

Rage swelled in me like a mountainous wave. I heard a roar worthy of a jungle beast and I was taken over by seething fury. With my free leg I kicked Pa hard and sharp in the stomach and he collapsed on the floor. Barton, caught by surprise, let go of the tooth-pull, and I grabbed it and walloped him around the side of the head. I unstrapped my other leg and jumped down. Pa was groaning on the floor, Barton was leaning against the wall holding his head, and Ma cowered in the corner.

"Don't hit me, Ludlow," she begged. "Don't hit me."

I will not deny I was tempted, but this was my one chance to escape. Pa was almost on his feet again. I dropped the tooth-pull and in a matter of seconds I was out of the door, up the steps, and running down the alley. I could hear Ma screaming and Pa shouting and cursing. Every time I looked back all I could see were Pa's snarling face and Barton's hooked tooth-pull glinting in the yellow gaslight.

As I ran I tried to think where to go. They knew so many of my hiding places. I decided on Mr. Jellico's, but when I reached his shop the place was in darkness and the blind was down. I hammered on the window and shouted his name, but there was no reply. I cursed my bad luck. I knew if Mr. Jellico was gone at this time of night he might not be back for days. But knowing this was little help in my current predicament.

So where to now? The bridge over the River Foedus and the Nimble Finger Inn. Betty Peggotty, the landlady, might help me. I ran out of the alley and onto the street, but they were already waiting for me.

"There 'e is," screeched Ma, and the chase was on again. They surprised me, Pa especially, with their stamina. I had not thought they would last so long. For at least a half-mile they chased me down the uncobbled narrow alleys and the filthy streets, tripping over bodies and avoiding snatching hands, all the way to the river. Every time I looked back they seemed to be closer. I knew what would happen if they caught me again. The ache in my bleeding jaw was all the proof I needed.

By the time I staggered onto the bridge I was barely able to hold myself upright. Halfway across I saw a carriage outside the Nimble Finger. Just as its wheels began to turn, I clambered on the back, hanging on for my life. As the carriage pulled away the last thing I remember is the sight of Ma sinking to her knees. She was screaming at me from the riverbank, and the monster, Barton Gumbroot, was shaking his fist in rage.


* * *

My name is Ludlow Fitch. Along with countless others, I had the great misfortune to be born in the City, a stinking place undeserving of a name. And I would have died there if it had not been for Ma and Pa. They saved me, though it was not their intention, when they delivered me, their only son, into the hands of Barton Gumbroot. This act of betrayal was possibly the greatest single piece of luck I ever had. Ma and Pa's diabolic plan brought about the end of one existence and the beginning of another: my life with Joe Zabbidou.

CHAPTER 2

Fragment from The Memoirs of Ludlow Fitch


I didn't know at the time, but I had hitched a ride on a carriage that belonged to, and contained, a Mr. Jeremiah Ratchet. We rattled along for hours, he inside snoring like a bellows, so loud I could hear it above the clatter of the wheels over the ruts, while outside I was clinging to the carriage like an organ-grinder's monkey. The weather worsened and it started to snow. The road narrowed and the potholes became larger, deeper, and more frequent. The driver had no thought for passenger comfort. If it wasn't for the fact that my hands were frozen in position I might well have fallen off. Despite this, and my churning innards (I suffer terribly from travel sickness), toward the end of the journey I was dozing. The carriage began to climb a steep hill, and finally we reached the place that was to be my home for the near future, the mountain village of Pagus Parvus.

Under any other circumstances I would not have chosen to come to Pagus Parvus, but at the time of traveling my destination was out of my hands. At last the carriage stopped outside a large house and the driver climbed down. I heard him rap on the carriage door.

"Mr. Ratchet," he called. "Mr. Ratchet."

But there was no reply, so he went to the house and rang for the maid. A young girl came out looking none too pleased. The driver called her Polly. Together they dragged the man up the steps, accompanied by much snoring (his) and grunting (theirs) and hauled him inside. I took the opportunity to jump down and sneak a look in the cab, wherein I found a leather purse, a fringed printed silk scarf, and a pair of gloves. I wrapped the scarf around my neck and slipped the gloves over my numb fingers. The purse contained only a few pennies but it was a start. I got out and saw the young girl standing in the doorway looking straight at me. There was a slight smile on her face and her eyes held mine for a long second. I heard the driver coming back and knew it was time to go. I could have gone either way, up the slope or down, but for some unknown reason I chose to climb.

The hill was treacherous. As I climbed I heard the church bell strike four. Although it was no longer snowing, the wind was sharp as a knife and I knew I needed shelter. Despite the hour, and the lack of streetlights, I could see well enough where I was going. It was not the moon that lit my way, for she was only a sliver, but all the lights ablaze behind the windows. It seemed that I was not the only one still awake in this village.

I stopped at an empty building at the top of the hill. It stood alone in the shadow of the church, desolate and separated from the other houses and shops by an alley. I was looking for a way in when I heard approaching footsteps in the snow. I ducked into the alley and waited. A man, hunched over, came carefully down the hill. He was carrying a large wooden spade over his shoulder and he was mumbling to himself. He passed right by me, looking neither to his left nor his right, and crossed over the road.

As he melted into the night another figure appeared. To this day I remember the man emerging from the gloom as if by magic. I watched him climbing steadily toward me. He took long strides and covered the distance quickly. He had a limp, his right step was heavier than his left, and one footprint was deeper than the other.

I believe I was the first person to see Joe Zabbidou and I know I was the last. Was it just coincidence that had us both arrive here together? I suspect other powers were at work. Unlike me, he wasn't fleeing. He had a purpose, but he kept it well hidden.

CHAPTER 3

Arrival


It was not easy to describe Joe Zabbidou accurately. His age was impossible to determine. He was neither stout nor thin, but perhaps narrow. And he was tall, which was a distinct disadvantage in Pagus Parvus. The village dated from times when people were at least six inches shorter and all dwellings were built accordingly. In fact, the place had been constructed during the years of the "Great Wood Shortage." The king at the time issued a decree that every effort must be made to save wood, with the result that doors and windows were made smaller and narrower than was usual and ceilings were particularly low.

Joe was suitably dressed for the weather, though unheedful of the current fashion for the high-collared coat. Instead he wore a cloak of muted green, fastened with silver toggles, that fell to his ankles. The cloak itself was of the finest Jocastar wool. The Jocastar — an animal akin to a sheep but with longer, more delicate legs and finer features — lived high up in the mountains of the northern hemisphere. Once a year, September time, it molted, and only the most agile climbers dared venture up into the thin air to collect its wool. The cloak was lined with the softest fur in existence, chinchilla.

On his feet Joe wore a pair of black leather boots, highly polished, upon which sat the beautifully pressed cuffs of his mauve trousers. Around his neck was wrapped a silk scarf, and a fur hat shaped like a cooking pot was pulled down tightly over his ears. It could not fully contain his hair, and more than a few silver strands curled out from underneath.

With every step Joe took, a set of keys hooked to his belt jingled tunefully against his thigh. In his right hand he carried a rather battered leather satchel straining at the seams, and in his left a damp drawstring bag from which there emanated an intermittent croaking.

Quickly, silently, Joe climbed the steep high street until he reached the last building on the left. It was an empty shop. Beyond it was a walled graveyard, the village boundary, within which stood the church. Then the road stretched away into a gray nothingness. Snow had drifted into the shop doorway and gathered in the corners of the flyblown windows. The paintwork was peeling and an old sign in the shape of a hat creaked above the door in the biting wind. Joe took a moment to survey the street down to the bottom of the hill. It was the early hours of the morning, but yellow oil lamps and candles glowed behind many a curtain and shutter, and more than once he saw the silhouette of a person cross back and forth in front of a window. A smile broke across his face.

"This is the place," he said and let himself in.

The shop itself was quite tiny. The distance between the display window and the counter was no more than three paces. Joe went behind the counter and opened the solid door that led into a back room. A tiny window on the far wall allowed the dusty moon-glow to lighten the gloom. The furniture was sparse and worn: two ladderback chairs and a table, a small stove, and a narrow bed pushed up against the wall. In contrast the fireplace was huge. At least six feet across and nearly three deep, it took up almost the whole of one wall. On either side of the hearth sat a faded upholstered armchair. It was not much, but it would do.

In the depths of the night, Joe busied himself settling in. He turned up the wick and lit the lamp on the table. He unwound his scarf, took off his hat and unfastened his cloak, and put them on the bed. Then he opened his satchel, and as a silent observer peered through the window, Joe emptied it out onto the table. The onlooker never moved, though his already huge dark eyes widened impossibly as Joe pulled out clothes, shoes, a collection of trinkets and baubles, some rather fine jewelry, two loaves, a bottle of stout, another bottle (dark-glassed and unlabeled), four timepieces (with gold chains), a brass hurricane lamp, a rectangular glass tank with a vented lid, a large black book, a quill and bottle of ink, and a polished mahogany wooden leg. The satchel was deceptively spacious.

Deftly Joe fixed the tank together, then took his drawstring bag and loosened the tie. He set it down gently on the table and a second later a frog, a rather spectacular specimen of mixed hue and intelligent expression, emerged daintily from its folds. Very carefully Joe picked it up and placed it inside the tank, whereupon the creature blinked lazily and munched thoughtfully on some dried insects.

As Joe dropped another bug into the tank he stiffened almost imperceptibly. Without a backward glance he left the room, the eyes at the window still following him curiously. But they didn't see him slip out into the street. No human ear heard him tiptoe around the back of the shop, where he pounced upon the figure at the window and held him up to the light by the scruff of his scrawny neck.

"Why are you spying on me?" asked Joe in the sort of voice that demanded an answer without delay.

Joe had the boy in such a grip that he was half choking on his collar and his feet were barely touching the ground. He tried to speak, but fear and shock had rendered him unable. He could only open and close his mouth like a fish out of water. Joe gave him a shake and repeated the question, though less harshly this time. When he still received no answer he let the young lad fall to the snow in a crumpled, pathetic heap.

"Hmm." Joe took a long, hard look at the boy. He truly was a pale and sorry figure, undersized, undernourished, and shivering so hard you could almost hear his bones rattle. His eyes were striking, though, dark green with flecks of yellow, and set in a ring of shadow. His skin matched the snow in tone and temperature. Joe sighed and pulled him to his feet.

"And you are?" he asked.

"Fitch," said the boy. "Ludlow Fitch."

CHAPTER 4

Poetry and Pawnbrokers


Ludlow sat at the table shivering in silence while Joe tended the fire. A blackened kettle hung over the flame and every so often Joe stirred its contents.

"Would you like some soup?"

Ludlow nodded and Joe ladled the thick mixture into two bowls and set them down. The boy gulped his noisily in spilling, overfull spoonfuls.

"Where have you come from?"

Ludlow wiped soup from his chin and managed to whisper. "From the City."

"I see. And do you wish to go back?"

He shook his head violently.

"I cannot blame you. In my experience the City is a rotten, diseased place full of the very worst of humanity. The lowest of the low."

Ludlow nodded again and drank at the same time, with the result that the soup dripped onto his gray shirt collar. Without hesitation, he put the stained cloth in his mouth and sucked out the juices. Joe watched unsmiling, but with amusement in his eyes.

"And what did you do in the City?"

Ludlow put down the bowl. The warming soup had brought life back to his frozen limbs. "All sorts, really," he said evasively, but then, under Joe's intense gaze, he continued, "though mainly I picked pockets."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins. Copyright © 2007 F. E. Higgins. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

F.E. Higgins is the author of The Bone Magician and The Eyeball Collector. As a child, she once saw a ghostly apparition, and ever since then, she has been fascinated by the macabre. She travels the world, collecting strange artifacts and stranger stories. Born in London, F.E. Higgins now lives in a haunted house that dates back to the fifteenth century, in a small village in rural Kent.


F.E. Higgins is the author of The Black Book of Secrets, The Bone Magician and The Eyeball Collector. As a child, she once saw a ghostly apparition, and ever since then, she has been fascinated by the macabre. She travels the world, collecting strange artifacts and stranger stories. Born in London, F.E. Higgins now lives in a haunted house that dates back to the fifteenth century, in a small village in rural Kent.

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The Black Book of Secrets 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
Bou More than 1 year ago
I'd be lying if I didn't say that I just had to know what kinds of secrets were in The Black Books of Secrets. The Book practically opened up in front of me and dared me to read it. Fiona Higgins's first novel is elegantly worded despite the lack of cleanliness in this gothic tale. A story of a mysterious man an this apprentice who brings life into a lifeless town full of people who live in fear and torment. The Black Book of Secrets didn't begin like most novels- the first page literally took my breath away. Higgins's words had a strong grip around my neck as I understood more about what lies between the pages of it's ebony cover. THe story takes place in centuries past in a remote English village called Pagus Parvus. Ludlow Fitch is on the run from his parents who are barbarically selling his teeth for money. A narrow escape leads Fitch to the village of Pagus Parvus. He meets a shadowy figure in the dark who happens to be Joe Zabbidou, the tows new Pawnbroker. Fitch in desperate need for money and a place to stay begins working for Zabbidou only to find out he is a secret pawnbroker. Like a traditional thriller, Fitch's character has to make a series of choices. These choices would be easy for any average child his age but Fitch grew up in "the city", a place of barbaric thieves and sin. Fitch's job consists of transcribing secrests from the villagers in the "black book", for which they receive a fair amount of money and a night full of peaceful dreaming all thanks to Joe Zabbidou. Althought Zabbidou is very unrevealing and often secretive about his past, he acts as a mentor and father figure to young Fitch. The true dilemma arises when Zabbisou is accused of murdering the town blackmailer, Jeremiah Ratchet. Who is Zabbiou, really? Is he a murderer? What does destiny have in store for Fitch? Whether this novel is considered to be a juvenile or adult fiction read, I felt a connection to Ludlow Fitch all the same. With every turn of the page, I felt Fitch's fate reveal itself even more, and all the villagers in Pagus Parvus for that matter. Most everyone from Pagus Pargus had a secret pawned in this little black book. In a sense, the black book was a character itself- a huge weight on the scale of fate. What would happen if this book got into the wrong hands? What would happen to the people of Pagus Parvus? What would happen to Joe Zabbidou, to Ludlow Fitch? These were all questions that ran through my head when I was reading this novel. The reoccurring themes of destiny, fate and the right to choose your own path, are what tied this story together. Throughout the book, Zabbidou teaches Fitch that it was his own choice that brought him to Pagus Parvus but destiny was what brought them together. In Joe Zabbisou's own words "Fortuna favet fortibus", fortune favors the bold. Whatever your destiny, you are the one to make it.
Jeffrey Bush More than 1 year ago
The first part is boring, but then it just takes off.
Sarabi_The_Great More than 1 year ago
This book is a very great read! The characters are very well developed, and you see the story from more than one point of view! The end twists a bit, too, and that makes the book even better! The plot is good too, and some of the confessions are just comical!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved the Black Book of Secrets! I couldn't stop reading it, I haven't done that since I read the Twilight Saga! I'm just itching for the sequeal. The Black Book of Secrets is a mysterious, and dark book but still exciting and good fun. I enjoyed reading it and was dissapointed when I had to stop, hoping for a sequeal. When I saw the little hint to it, I literally started bouncing around! I'm reading this story for my book report, and now I can be excited to do so! I hope the sequeal arrives soon!
S_Nolz_Berk More than 1 year ago
My brother picked this up from the library on Saturday, and I wanted a book to read, so I stole it from him and read it for a few minutes Saturday night. Sunday I was busy, and read it only for a few more minutes. Along came Monday, I wasn't busy, so I finally did what I wanted, and sat down and read. I finished it, and wanted to read more, but of course there was no more. This was definitely a children's book for various reasons; the main character was a little boy, the vocabulary was simple, anything that could have been gruesome and horrible or bad was softened considerably, and there was very little character development. However, it was a very engaging book for various reasons; the book was interesting to begin with because it was all black, it was a book about fascinating secrets, and they kept coming, and the mystery of the pawnbroker was too much suspense for me to put the book down. There was also an interesting little section about questionable careers in those times. I thought the writing was quite good in this book, and I hope F. E. Higgins writes another one like it soon.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was great! i love all the secrets. and how joe is so calm about eveything.it seems like he knows the future but, doesn't. i like this book and how it looks on the outside. its so mysterios. the black pages. Love it!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my ABSOLUTE favorite book and recomend to anyone of any age. It keeps you up until 3 in the morning when you finally finish it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very unique in that the plot reveals little secrets and hints about the character that make you wonder if the book is in the supernatural genre. However, the author leaves that open for interpretation because everything could easily be explained by natural causes and effects. This book is also unique because the author takes the time to describe all of the characters in depth. Every character is important and none are to be overlooked. There is also the clever placement of a symbol at strategically placed intervals in the chapters that reveals its meaning at the end of the book. As a whole, the book is very clever and an enjoyable read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book and im not rereading. I read it at a younger age but i still like. Everyone thinks its a bad read but i think its lovely. It might seem slow but f.e. higgins is setting the scene. This is not a waste fo your time. I loved it and the trill it gives a person it not the best but its still good. I think its more of a childerns book or pre teens. F.e. higgings did a great job and the next bok is just as great. Each person is different bit i think this was an excellent read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
IF U RED THIS U R THE COOLEST PERSON EVER! (Costapaded overweight outofshpe loser() srry had to
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the best book i have ever read! There are tons of twists and turns. So dont be surprized when you think this isbthe endnof the book! Im so mad that F. E. Higgins stopped making books. Or is she?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book suffers from an intense case of target audience confusion. A large amount of the book seems to be written for a younger audience. The slow moving story spoon feeds you the character's emotions while constantly shoving unwanted life lessons down your throat. Then, when the reader's mind has slowed to a sluggish coma, Higgins hits you with gruesome and murderous scenes, that by contrast seem almost inappropriate. A younger reader will probably be scarred for life while an older reader will most likely fall asleep, leaving this book in a strange limbo... read full review at theofficebooks.blogspot
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was read to me in third grade....everyone in our class loved it-justine
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Silly
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
That pretty mush says it all. A great concept for a fantasy book, and it falls flat. It does have its interesting points to it, and the character are well written. I wish they had a better story though. It could have been wonderful. The good thing about this book is that it is not too long. So i recommend reading it, but dont get your hopes up when you get near the end.
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Deanna Buringrud More than 1 year ago
this book is really good!
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