Thursday, September 6, 2007

Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Montmorency is a prisoner in Victorian London with an unusual status. When the police were chasing him prior to his arrest in a burglary, he fell through a glass roof and sustained such terrible injuries that he would have certainly died were it not for the skillful administrations of Dr. Farcett. The brilliant doctor makes quite a name for himself when he is able to restore Montmorency's health. He exhibits Montmorency at London's Scientific Society, showcasing his medical methods and achievements. Montmorency feels uncomfortable being offered up as a living medical specimen, having total strangers run their hands over his scars and sutures, but he learns many interesting things during these sojourns from prison.

One lecture he hears during the course of an evening is by Joseph Bazalgette, who explains to an admiring crowd about the new sewage system he has created for London, a system that will decrease disease and stench throughout the city. Montmorency, criminal mastermind that he is, immediately thinks of the uses to which he might put such a system. The sewage tunnels would be the perfect way for a thief to arrive unobserved - and, of course, to make a clean, mysterious getaway.

Prison life is difficult, due to the fact that the other prisoners dislike and distrust him, openly abusing him because of his "special" status and frequent absences. He would like to have a partner to work with once he gets out, but he doesn't dare to confide in anyone, not even his one cell mate, who is an incredible mimic and teaches Montmorency some of his skills. When Montmorency finally does get out, he realizes that, in order to survive and succeed in his plan, he can trust no one. He will have to become two different people - a lower-class man (to move through the sewers), and a gentleman (to fence his ill-gotten gains). Can he pull it off? What of the psychological implications of living a double life? It surprises him when, in his gentleman's role, he begins to feel guilt about his actions and their consequences. And when he is given an opportunity to utilize his skills in a way that can help his country, which of his two selves will reign in making that choice, the self-serving thief, or the newly created gentleman?

This was a fascinating, exciting novel written by an author with in-depth knowledge of the historical time period. I enjoyed the psychological nature of the theme, as well as the fear of discovery and thrill of the chase as Montmorency pursues his double life. It was a bit puzzling to me why this is classified as a young-adult novel, because the protagonist appears to be an adult - there are no adolescent issues here. But I think the story certainly has teen appeal - and adult appeal as well. This is the first book of a series about Montmorency's adventures, and I am definitely curious to read more about this interesting character.

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanore Updale (Scholastic, 2003)

2 comments:

  1. This is a very good summary, but doesn't Montmorency, in prison, have 2 cellmates? There is Barney Watts and Frank Holliday (Freakshow). Please correct me if I am wrong. Otherwuse, great book review!

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  2. Matt - I'm sure you're right! At this point I can't remember the book clearly enough (I read it in 2007) - thanks for the correction. :-)

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