This is Fiona Higgins's first novel, and is the first book in her 'Tales from the Sinister City' series. It's about a young boy, named Ludlow Fitch. Ludlow is fed up with pickpocketing just to provide money for his poor parent's alcohol addiction to gin. At the beginning of the book Ludlow is knocked unconscious by them and is sent to Barton Gumbroot, a dentist who plans to buy his teeth. In a scene reminiscent of 'Marathon Man', Ludlow fights the dentist off and runs away from his parents and the stinking city. He hitches a ride in a carriage that leads him to a remote village called Pagus Parvus, where he meets a mysterious man called Joe Zabbidou, who has also just arrived. Joe offers Ludlow a job as his apprentice to his work as a 'secret pawnbroker'. It is now Ludlow's job to write down other people's secrets into a black book. Things start to take a horrible turn when a local man, Jeremiah Rachett, finds out about this Black Book of Secrets. He has threatened or blackmailed just about everyone else in the village, and so he plans to steal the book to use it to his own advantage.
This is a dark gothic book full of black humour. It reads a bit like a Roald Dahl book, no bad thing, with a Catholic religious subplot lightened by the humour. The novel's finale has an obvious trailer for volume two. The book is 322 pages, and is aimed at 9-13 year olds. Overall my bookaholic daughter thought it was a pretty good read, and rated it 4*, a comparable score to 'His dark materials' and 'Inkheart' [she loves Harry Potter and rates his books 3*, with 'Chaos Walking' and 'Wyrmeweald' achieving 5*]. Fiona Higgins `Tales from the Sinister City' series now include: 1. The Black Book of Secrets (2007), 2. The Bone Magician (2008), 3. The Eyeball Collector (2009) and 4. The Lunatic's Curse (published 2010).