word craft


The Traitors’ Gate

The Traitors' Gate

Richard Jack­son Books
Atheneum, 2007

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audio book nar­rat­ed by 
John Keating

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What’s this book about?

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.

Story Behind the Story

If you have read these notes of mine with any reg­u­lar­i­ty you will have sure­ly noticed that the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry British writer, Charles Dick­ens, has had con­sid­er­able influ­ence on my read­ing life and writ­ing. I was intro­duced to him by my moth­er, who had a mul­ti-vol­ume set of his works on her shelves, and adored his writ­ing, as count­less oth­ers have. I knew an elder­ly Eng­lish pro­fes­sor who read Dick­ens every night to his wife, night after night, for many, many years.

I don’t know when I start­ed to read him, but in one sense of anoth­er I have nev­er stopped. At a min­i­mum, A Christ­mas Car­ol is required Decem­ber read­ing, and it nev­er fails to move me.

Trai­tors’ Gate might be called my homage to Dick­ens. Set in Lon­don, Eng­land, in 1849, it is full of ref­er­ences to the great writer, some bla­tant, some sly. On the bla­tant side, my pro­tag­o­nist, John Huf­fam, takes his name from Dick­ens’ full name, Charles John Huf­fam Dick­ens. More­over, the plot derives from a cru­cial inci­dent in young Dick­ens’ life, when his father was impris­oned for debt.

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Awards and Recognition

  • 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, starred review)

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