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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).
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This is a hugely entertaining tale of a magical almost wizard like 'secret pawnbroker', his pet frog and his young apprentice Ludlow. The setting is very atmospheric in a Dickensian type era of tooth-pulling, bodysnatching and gruesome pies. The young hero runs for his life from the rank city and is befriended in the country by the mysterious 'secret pawnbroker' who sets up shop in a new community. The book leaves you guessing the whole way through whether the pawnbroker is good or evil and whether his intentions are to help, to exploit the community or perhaps worse.
The book is expertly written and presented as the work of the author F E Higgins who found Ludlows's memoirs and Joe's black book of secrets in a hollow wooden leg, which also features in the story. The extracts from the black book and extracts from the memoir are mixed with the real time action in a believable and gripping tale.
The characters who again are almost Dickensian with their absolutely fabulous names are a well thought out community with lots of interesting secrets to tell. The darker the secret the more the secret pawnbroker pays...
Very highly recommended! Don't miss this one!
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on 9 October 2007
When I ordered the black book of secrets I didn't realise it was part of the Macmillan Children's Books collection, when I opened the first page and saw the Macmillan stamp I have to admit I was completely gutted, I presumed that this book was a grown up story but what I had in front of me was going to be no more than a childish attempt of scaring little children, but I was so wrong.

The book took hold of me from the first page and I felt I was walking with Ludlow through the dark cold & snowy village of Pagus Parvus. The descriptions where so clearly written that I was able to see the village and the creepy village inhabitants, like the grave digger and the repulsive Jeremiah Ratchett. The book is written so effortlessly that each chapter just flows incredibly well. I found that the book reminded me of those dark Benson animations- I would love to see an animated version of the book, it would be absolutely brilliant! Fingers crossed the next instalment will be out soon, I would love to know what happened next with Ludlow! A surprisingly brilliant book which got me hooked by the claws, give this a go you definitely won't be let down!
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on 7 March 2007
The Black book of Secrets is an excellent book. It really makes you ponder about what you are reading and is suitable for very imaginative minds. The plot is very well thought out and quick- wittedly, everything falls in to place at the end. Ludlow Fitch is the main character and hasn't had a very calm and easy life, quite the opposite! His life is full of stress and after many years of harsh treatment he decides to leave the stinky city and lead a fuller life. He arrives at the village of Pagus Parvus and meets Joe Zabbidoe, a mysterious pawnbroker, he realises every thing in this small village in the mountains is not what it seems. Many of the viilagers have unbearable secrets to sell...

Many of the characters in this book have interesting personalities but some are very different. On one hand, Joe Zabbidoe, who takes Ludlow in, is quite relaxed at all times and his past is a mysterious subject. He never gives away his emotions by keeping his face blank. On the other hand Jeremiah Ratchett, the landlord of the village who cheats the villagers out of money, is always very uptight and jump, also his actions are sharp. Ludlow is a very samll and skinny boy who hasn't had much education although he is very street samrt from his past pick pocketing experience. Zabbidou and Fitch become quite a duo but Ludlow's frustration with Joe grows as it seems he isn't told the whole story.

F.E. Higgins is a very talented writer and her style is very easy to read. She is very good at persuading you to like some characters and dislike others.

I wolud say this book is a mixture of genres. It has a mixture of adventure/ magical/ horror and this makes it a very unique read and extremely enjoyable!

I would recommend it to readers who are adventurous and imaginative. Also it will suit you if you can relate to characters and sympathise with them.

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VINE VOICEon 11 October 2010
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Murders! Rat infested pies! Frogs!

A rather gothic jaunt through a well written, well paced, adventure / mystery / young adult story.

I was surprised to find this book was in fact the author's début novel - being written so well. You engage with the characters, recoil at the villain (stinker!) and find yourself utterly lost in the world of Joe Zabbidou (The names in this novel are excellent fun - Lembart Jellico was another favourite).

I'm off to read 'The Eye-Ball Collector' next and can't wait.

Thoroughly recommended read - especially for Halloween!
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on 2 March 2013
This is an excellent book suitable for younger teenagers and quite enjoyable for adults too. I'm currently teaching this to some 13 year olds in English and they seem to be enjoying it so far. There is so much you can do with this novel and Heinneman have a teaching book to go with it. I would recommend this to any teachers with a boisterous and excitable class as, when reading aloud, you can hear a pin drop.
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on 3 August 2007
gripping from the first page. Ludlow learns how luck and destiny are interwoven and how he must take responsibility for his own actions.
Couldn't put it down. read it in one day. Enjoyed the ending. Makes you think about the moral decisions you make throughout your life.
Very entertaining easy read.
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on 4 July 2007
Perfect! Read this in a day as I simply could not put it down. Quite obvious the author is extremely talented and I eagerly await her next book. A highly recommended read!
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on 26 December 2015
The book is well written and easy to read. I very much enjoyed it and found it difficult to put the book down once I started reading it :-). I highly recommend it not just for youngsters but for grown ups as well
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on 10 February 2008
I had to read this for a Childrens Book Day event at work, and to be honest wasn't looking forward to it, but when i started i couldn't put it down, i finished it in 2 and a quater hours (i am a fast reader anyway) but i couldn't stop. It was very good.
Higgins is great at making you love some characters and hate the others, and her descriptive writing is superb, i could picture it all.
A definite recommendation. Brilliant
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