Mr. Timothy

Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard. Working with someone else’s characters has its plusses and minuses. An author does not have to explain to his audience the history of the character because the previous author has already done so, but the new writer is also constrained by that same history. Bayard manages to overcome this problem by moving Dickens’ Tiny Tim forward by more than a decade into young adulthood. Mr. Timothy is living in a small brothel, receiving his room and board in exchange for tutoring the madam and occasionally assisting an old seafarer in recovering bodies from the Thames. Mostly, however, he relies on gifts from his Uncle N to cover his expenses. His only living sibling is a brother, married and with a profitable photography business. It’s a tolerable life without excitement until he discovers two dead young girls, each with a mysterious brand upon their shoulders. When he comes across a living angel with the same mark, he becomes her protector and finds himself plunging into a dangerous adventure. Primarily assisted by a street urchin named Colin the Melodious, Tim uses all his contacts to combat the evil forces arrayed against them and get justice.

Bayard’s description of 1860 London has a Dickensian feel to it and by moving the story forward in time, he gives himself the ability to have Tim fill in his own history with remembrances. Bayard has Tim haunted by the ghost of his own father to whom Tim writes poignant letters in his mind. These letters provide welcome breaks from the almost continuous action of the story. Bayard has two more books in which he takes real-life characters and puts them into mysteries: first Edgar Allen Poe as a young West Point cadet in The Pale Blue Eye and Eugene Francois Vidocq as the first director of the French Surete in The Black Tower. I have little interest in Poe, but am curious about Vidocq.

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