Valyruh’s #CBR4 Review #52: Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard
Mr. Timothy is a mystery set in 1860 London at Christmastime, and centered around—of all people—Timothy Cratchit, made famous as Tiny Tim in Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol.” Hold on! Before you go “Yecch, too saccharine for my tastes,” rest assured that this reinvention of the now-23 year old Mr. Timothy—while delightfully Dickensian in language, setting, and character—is as gritty, bloody, and darkly exciting as any contemporary thriller, but with twice the depth.
Timothy has lost his father, mother, and several of his siblings, accepts room and board at a whorehouse in exchange for teaching the madam to read, and occasionally accompanies the hilarious Captain Gully dredging for bodies in the Thames in exchange for remuneration. Meanwhile, Timothy sees the image of his deceased father everywhere he goes, and writes letters to the dead man as a way of coping with the excruciatingly guilty conscience he suffers towards his entire family for having been “Tiny Tim.” He is still trying to fathom who and what he now is, or can become. He has shed the wooden crutch of his childhood, but not the financial one that comes in the form of periodic handouts from rich Uncle N, otherwise known as Ebenezer Scrooge (yes, that Scrooge!) who has made Christmas giving the raison d’etre of his life. The doddering Scrooge lives in a mansion filled year-round with moldering holiday decorations, and has taken to studying fungi as a hobby while donating to every cause that crosses his doorstep; a grown-up Tiny Tim is reluctantly still one of those causes.
Not long after spying from his bedroom window the panicked flight of a disheveled young girl who appears more spirit than human, Timothy starts to encounter the branded corpses of girls of the same age and contracts the services of street urchin Colin the Melodious to track down the escapee and try to penetrate the mystery of the brand. Little does he know that he has stumbled upon a conspiracy of human trafficking at its most perverse, and one that is buried within society’s seemingly invulnerable upper crust. Bayard accelerates the action as Timothy and his intrepid young helpers attempt to expose the bad guys, and the reader fast-forwards from Dickens to Ludlum without ever losing the period flavor of the story.
While the conclusion of the story is foregone—this is Timothy Cratchit, after all—the depth of character that author Bayard gives his young protagonists, the exciting plot, and the authenticity of the language and the period which he depicts, makes this an enjoyable and worthy read.