|The Traitor's Gate
John Huffam is sure the tall man's beard is false. He's sure of little else in November 1849, the year he is fourteen, the year his father is sentenced to London's Whitecross Street Prison.
Maybe the man following John—who claims to be one Inspector Copperfield—can explain why. Surely, Pa isn't prepared to reveal the truth, any more than the jovial bailiff, Mr. Tuckum, who knows something, but remains mum. Or the little Frenchman, Mr. Farquatt, who courts John's sister but seems most keen on Pa's work at the Naval Ordinance Office. Or Mr. O'Doul, the Irishman who insists Pa owes him the unimaginable sum of three hundred pounds.
Or what of the one-legged, single-mindedly fierce Sergeant Muldspoon, John's teacher? What about the boy's great-great-aunt, Lady Euphemia Huffam, who could pay the debt but won't for reasons of her own? What about the secretive Mr. Snugsbe of All Hallows Church, who hides himself away in the City's most voluminous coat?
Then there's Chief Inspector Ratchet of Scotland Yard, who is after somebody for some crime or other. True, John has a new friend and ally in Sary the Sneak … but what has even she got up her sleeve?
What John learns on his own is that there's a traitor on the loose, somewhere. And he must uncover the villain—no matter who it might be.
Behind the Book
Avi writes: I have a great affection for England, the Victorian novel in general, and the writer Charles Dickens in particular. This book brings together all of that.
The main character in the book is John Huffam, who takes his name from Charles Dickens’ full name—Charles John Huffman Dickens. Since Dickens didn’t like to use those middle names, I decided I could.
The story takes place in the year 1849, when Dickens’ David Copperfield was first serialized. That too, enters the story. While there are other elements from Dickens’ life in the book—his father being sent to debtor’s prison a key one—the book is not based on Dickens life. Rather, I take London life from that time, and tell the tale in a style that focuses on character and rich description, all of which are molded together to create a spy story full of surprising twists and exciting turns, including an ending that won’t be guessed.
Awards and Honors
School Library Journal, 2007, starred review
“This is a Victorian tale charmingly told in Victorian fashion. Avi’s love of the period is evident in how vividly, and without romanticizing, he brings London, teeming with eccentric characters, smells, and sounds, to life. Indeed, the city becomes a central character. With plenty of period detail, this action-packed narrative of twists, turns, and treachery is another winner from a master craftsman.” (School Library Journal)
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