Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Boggled!: A Plague of Bogles by Catherine Jinks

"Shhh," Alfred hissed when he spotted the grate. "That's the one." He pulled Jem back from the door. "She'll have met her end in there, poor lass." Alfred rummaged through his brown bag. "Bogles like drains," he said, quietly. "Never think any hole is too small for a bogle." He had a small leather bag in one hand and his spear in the other. "Can you sing?"

"I can sing," Jem confessed, "but not like Birdie."

"Step into the ring of salt only when I tell you. Don't move till I move. And whatever you do, lad--do not touch the salt on your way out o' the ring."

Jem began to sing. "Brandy or rum I tipple in, with my darlin'..."

What was that smell? The bogle seemed to pour through the doorway like a wave of black treacle. Then, as it gathered itself into a kind of crest--rearing up behind Jem--a huge, gaping hole appeared in its body. The bogle was starting to encircle him. Glancing down at the slimy noose that was about to tighten around his ankles, he took his eyes off Alfred for a moment.

"JEM! NOW!" screamed the bogler.

It ain't over till it's over. With Birdie taken in by the wealthy folklorist, Miss Eames, studying for a career in the opera, and Jem working for a respectable grocer, Alfred Bunce is fresh out of apprentices and figures it's high time to retire from bogle-slaying. But when Jem hears about the disappearance of scullery girl Flossie in a pub built over a dungeon of Newgate Prison, he locates Alfred and begs him to hunt down the bogle beneath the bar.

As they soon learn, it seems that many bogles have plagued the area around Newgate. It's a plague of bogles, and Alfred and Jem reason that there must be a reason for the relatively rare child-eating monsters to congregate in one area. No child is safe in the neighborhood, and reluctantly, Alfred has to enlist the help of Miss Eames and Birdie to help him clear the area of bogles. Birdie is more than a bit bored with her middle-class life, and Miss Eames can't resist pursuing her research, so the four of them begin their bogle eradication mission.

But even their skills seem to be up against more than they can handle. There must be something drawing ever more bogles to Newgate, and Jem suspects his old employer, Sarah Pickles, for whom he thieved for seven years, is involved. He does some sleuthing on his own and learns a horrible truth. Sarah is in cahoots with the ruthless butcher John Gammon, a.k.a Salty Jack, who runs a powerful protection racket in Newgate Square. Sarah is now a "baby farmer," one who takes in the babies of poor working girls for pay, with a generous cut for Salty Jack, but who spares herself the trouble of caring for them by heartlessly feeding them to bogles in the cellars, where they disappear without a trace. With a abundant diet of tender babies at hand, the plague of bogles is explained, but even the streetwise Jem is staggered by the evil of Pickles and Salty Jack. He sets out to spy on Sarah Pickles to gather proof for the police, but falls into her trap and winds up chained in her cellar, perfect bogle bait himself.

Catherine Jinks' second book in this series, A Plague of Bogles (How to Catch a Bogle) (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), almost outdoes her initial tale with non-stop suspense, wry humor, and a well-fleshed out glimpse of Victorian London populated by vivid, unforgettable characters that could have come straight out of Dickens. Jinks is a master storyteller and a verbal artist who sketches out her setting and characters with infinitely fine strokes deeply steeped in British folklore, all the while keeping the tension building toward a slam-dunk climax.

With a a deliciously Dickensian slang glossary that dutiful eighth graders plowing through required reading of Great Expectations would love and a teasing touch of Jinks' next sequel appended, this second book in the trilogy has it all--deadly danger in deep, dark sewers and the dungeons of Newgate Prison, resilient orphans determined to survive, and a cast of colorful adult characters, from the Fagan-esque Sarah Pickles to a murderous butcher with all the cold-blooded guile of a Mafioso chief. This novel is a deftly plotted Gothic mystery, a page-turning thriller that grabs the reader like a hungry bogle and doesn't release until the final word is gobbled down.

Jink's initial book is How to Catch a Bogle, (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014, 2013) just out in a brand-new paperback edition. (Read my review here.)

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