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Monday, March 4, 2013

Dodger, written by Terry Pratchett. Doubleday, Random House. 2012. $29.95 ages 12 and up

"This caused such a silence that he realized this was probably not a sensible idea. As he thought this, he suddenly also thought, I'm talking to this gent like I'm his equal! It's amazing how a shonky suit and a plate of bacon and eggs can make a man feel set up! But I'm still the lad that got up this morning as a tosher, and they're still the gent and missus who got up in this big house..."

I finished reading Terry Pratchett's latest book a week ago; every scene is still fresh and memorable. I must admit that from my initial meeting with the Artful Dodger in the high school play Oliver in the mid-1960s he has been my favorite character. I loved his style, his chutzpah, and his take on life as one of Fagin's minions.

This book had me from its first page...I could have filled my journal with favorite quotes. Terry Pratchett is a superb storyteller and captured my attention immediately. Was he really going to make Charles Dickens a character in his story? Indeed, he does! Mister Charlie is one of the first people who makes an impression on Dodger after he helps a young woman who is being treated badly by the men sent to return her to her abusive husband.

Mister Charlie is impressed with Dodger's bravery in the face of great danger to himself, and he takes him under his wing and helps him find safety for the young woman. Her name is Simplicity. Dodger is a young and charming man, who knows his place in Victorian London society. His life with his landlord Solomon has prepared him well for the changes in his circumstance. Dodger is a tosher, foraging in the sewers and finding daily treasure that he shares with Solomon  in exchange for room and board. Solomon admires the young man's pluck and tenacity.

With twists and turns galore and a new identity to protect Simplicity, Dodger's life path is changed and Solomon helps him deal with those changes. He becomes a much admired member of society, rising quickly and astonishing many:

"The following day the coach arrived exactly on time and with Serendipity on board. When they set off again Solomon, who seemed to know everything about these matters, said: "This is, of course, a private audience. But just remember, Her Majesty is in charge. Do not speak until you are spoken to. Never, ever interrupt and - and I stress this, Dodger - don't get familiar. Do you understand?"

While solving the mystery of the young woman, Dodger meets a number of historical figures making this smart and thoroughly entertaining tale perfect fare for those who love history, particularly of the Victorian England kind. Witty wordplay such as Dodger wanting to be a 'successful urchin'  by 'studying how to urch' makes it a reader's delight and makes me want to read it all over again. He is a wonderful character, worthy of our attention and forever memorable.

Were I a screenwriter I would want to adapt this story for the silver screen so that those who won't likely read his story might still come to know this witty, intelligent and oh, so charming young man.

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