Book: The Black Book of Secrets by F. E. Higgins, audiobook narrated by James Daniel Wilson, Fiewal & Friends, 2007, 288 pages.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
A boy arrives at a remote village in the dead of night. His name is Ludlow Fitch—and he is running from a most terrible past. What he is about to learn is that in this village is the life he has dreamed of—a safe place to live, and a job, as the assistant to a mysterious pawnbroker who trades people’s deepest, darkest secrets for cash. Ludlow’s job is to neatly transcribe the confessions in an ancient leather-bound tome: The Black Book of Secrets.
Ludlow yearns to trust his mentor, who refuses to disclose any information on his past experiences or future intentions. What the pawnbroker does not know is, in a town brimming with secrets, the most troubling may be held by his new apprentice.
I listened to the audio book of this story and absolutely loved it. It really held my (and my 12 year old son's) interest. The narrator, James Daniel Wilson is dynamic and great with voices and certainly carried the story along really well.
This is a dark and Victorian-esque story that takes place in a fictional place, though it has a lot of resemblance to London. There is almost a Charles Dickens feel to the story of the mal-treated twelve year old Ludlow who escapes from terrible alcoholic parents who want to pull out his teeth and sell them so they can buy more gin. Ludlow escapes and finds himself in Pagus Parvus and working for a secret pawnbroker named Jeb Zabbidou. Jeb pays people for their secrets and writes them down in the Black Book of Secrets.
Both characters are new to Pagus Parvus and soon learn that the town is full of secrets, most of which revolve around Jeremiah Ratchet, who is the scheming, corrupt overlord of the area.
I was completely taken with the story and the descriptions. I could just picture some of the horrible scenarios described, and I am sure that imaginative kids who like horror stories will love these tales as they appear throughout the book.
Ludlow is a great character and I totally felt for him, being brought up by such terrible parents and having to make decisions he didn't like just to survive. It was interesting to watch his struggles as Jeb puts his faith in him and Ludlow has to decide how to act and who to trust. He also asks the questions that nag at the reader about Jeb, such as who is he, where does his money come from, how can he afford to pay for secrets, what does he get out of the situation?
The whole book is full of darkness, mystery and intrigue, as well as being entertaining and well written. As the story goes on, this tension only builds. The other thing I really liked was that the story and its ultimate conclusion are different from other things I've read and I loved the imagination and originality of the book. I even enjoyed the pacing, with the overall story moving along and being broken up with the interludes of the villagers secrets.
I would highly recommend this book for the middle school crowd, especially if they like a bit of darkness in their books or enjoy books such as Lemony Snicket, and I will certainly be in the lookout for more books from this author. She has written several other books (check her web site by clicking on her name above) which are companion-type books in that they are all stand alone books with some overlapping characters and setting (at least from what I understand).