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The Printer's Devil (Printers Devil Trilogy) Paperback – 3 May 2005
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Convicts, murderers and the shady inhabitants of the London underworld are part of daily life for 12-year-old printer's devil, Mog Winter - after all, Mog prints their 'wanted' posters...But a face to face encounter with a real crook - a prison escapee - leads to Mog becoming enmeshed in an ingenious theft, a series of mistaken identities and a murder hunt...all connected to a recently docked ship from the Indian subcontinent, and Mog's own mysterious past.
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The writing is quite good, particularly at conjuring up the streets of old London (I failed to find a date for when the story was set, but the mention of frock coats and “broken hats which opened up at the top like round boxes” (p. 203-4) suggest to me that it’s the early Victorian era). Little details, like the smell, dirt and heat are frequently called to mind, and paint a vivid portrait of Mog’s world. Occasionally people and places are not described with as much detail as would make them memorable (there are lots of typically archaic, almost Dickensian names in the book - Cricklebone, Spintwice, Cramplock – and these sometimes feel interchangeable), but otherwise I found everything clear and easy to understand. Perhaps my biggest problems with the writing was the pacing, which was jerky, and the occasional use of third-person limited narration, when the bulk of the book is written in first person. The editing could also have been better… the spelling of one name was inconsistent, and even though it is deliberately misspelled in the beginning, there is no reason for it to go on swapping around in the rest of the book. Otherwise, I found the author effectively endeared the main characters to me, kept me interested and tantalised me with clues without making the end too obvious. Not every mystery was solved, but I understand this is only the first in a series, so presumably more will be revealed in the following books.
It was quite brave of Paul Bajoria to choose a poor boy at the titular character, because the time-period described is brutal and dirty; if you are of a squeamish disposition, and feel uncomfortable with things like horse poo and dog fighting, you might want to choose something else. If you enjoy a story that doesn’t pull many punches and has heart then I can recommend this happily. I will be getting the next in the series, as soon as time and money collude to enable me.
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