Monday, March 4, 2013

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? by Eleanor Updale

When a petty thief falls through a glass roof in his attempt to escape the police, what should have been the death of him marks the beginning of a whole new life, After his broken body is reconstructed by an ambitious young doctor, he is released from prison, and -- with the help of Victorian London's extensive sewer system -- he becomes the most elusive burglar in the city. He adopts a dual existence as a respectable, wealthy gentleman named Montmorency and his degenerate servant Scarper. But Montmorency must always be on his guard. The smallest mistake could reveal his secret and ruin both his lives.
Eleanor Updale's writing is witty and wholly original. With a unique perspective and a voice reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe, Montmorency is a cleverly told, gripping adventure story.

~Print copy (from the library)
Published: 2003 by Orchard Books

I've read this book before. So, immediately, you know that this is a book that caught my spark.

Where to begin?

First off, I like that name. Montmorency. It rolls off the tongue. It sounds really dramatic and exotic and a cool name to have if you're a character from an adventure novel.

I love the premise. Montmorency, or Prisoner 493, is broken; a young doctor by the name Farcett stitches him up again... and shows off his nearly-naked body as a science exhibit for the Scholarly Circle (not the actual name of the group). You know, the rich, snooty scientists, who examine his body as if 493 is not a human being but some sort of practice mannequin. A doll, with scars to show off, so the doctor can tell the crowd how he fixed this problem on his thigh and ask how he might get into that wound on his back.

So, when Montmorency gets out of prison, he writes a note. He dresses like a servant and delivers that note to a fancy hotel, which tells the manager to rent out a suite with a good view to a Montmorency -- meanwhile, he, as the servant Scarper, would prepare the room for his master.

Quite an ingenious plan, really. He learned of the sewer system in one of those scholarly meeting, and he decides to use those sewers to get around the city, stealing valuables and then just dropping down into the filth, out of sight, while the police search vainly aboveground.

As I said, genius premise. I think it kind of speaks for itself.

I really like Montmorency the character, as well. For a prisoner, servant, and snooty elite, he was a good choice for POV. (In 3rd person, of course.) He had freedoms the rich didn't have, and he had the money most servants didn't have, and as a prisoner he'd attended those lectures to show him off, and he learned a great deal from them -- a luxury most prisoners didn't have.

More than that, he was devious and quick-minded, and a darn good actor. He is, of course, morally ambigious and a criminal, but Updale wrote this cleverly enough that he's a really likeable criminal.

My third point: the adventure. The action. His getting around society and fooling everybody makes for a good story, and I didn't mention the surprise at the end. I kind of thought it almost abrupt, that last quarter or so of the book; but in retrospect, you can look back and see how it built up to it. I'm not telling you that ending.

I didn't really have anything against this book. Or if I did, I didn't really notice. I give this a definite 5 stars.


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