Review Blog

Oct 20 2015

Theophilus Grey and the demon thief by Catherine Jinks

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Allen & Unwin, 2015. ISBN 9781760113605
(Age: 10+) Highly recommended. Humour, Historical novel, London, 1750, Street children. Theophilus (Philo to his friends) works for the lawyer's clerk, Garnet Hooke, a man who stays all day in bed, sending out his gang of linkboys to not only take people home in the dark of the night, but also gather information which he then sells. Philo hears from one of the less desirable acquaintances that there is something not quite right, a feeling of someone behind him, of a fearful smell. Philo talks to his master about it, but his fears about a demon are dismissed, although Philis is dismayed when later he finds that Garnet has been giving herbal remedies to others who are worried.
A London of two and a half centuries ago is brought incredibly alive in Jinks' writing as we see the children who work the streets, lighting the way for people going home, pickpockets, potboys and footpads, all squeezing out what little money they can get to survive. We see the women coming into London escaping their husbands, going to the parish church for help, girls selling small bunches of herbs on the street, the workhouses that some of Philo's crew have lived in, all uncomfortably real, redolent of the eighteenth century, of the London of a century before Jinks' previous series, City of Orphans.
This is the first in a series of two novels following Philo as he tries to unearth the demon that people think is striking people down. Helped by his new friend, the physician, Mr Paxton, he treads a wary path through the machinations of his ill employer and those who want him out of the way. His investigations take him to Rat's Castle, the dwelling of the worst of men in the byways of London's West End, and here he finds the flower seller, Samantha in a particular predicament.
The background of this wonderful story is so well detailed that any reader will be able to smell the filth and grime in which people live, and wonder at the changes that have befallen our lives in two hundred years and be grateful for it.
Philo is a most likable character, illiterate but street wise, canny in keeping himself and his crew safe, waiting for an opportunity to make a small amount of money and wary of those around him who would do him and his friends harm.
Fran Knight

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