Tuesday, January 17

Mister Creecher

by Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury 2011

The creature walks the streets of London, with the Artful Dodger, hunting down the mad doctor!  No, Boris Karloff does not make an appearance.

The scene is London, 1918, and there in the darkened, fog-damp streets is Billy, pickpocket and petty thief. Billy starts off in a spot of trouble with the local thugs when is hide is saved by an enormous monster of a man who Billy comes to call Mister Creecher. An odd and uneasy bond develops between them as Mr. C convinces him to come along on a bloody (literally) little trip to the country in search of the true monster, the man who made Mr C what he is, one Doctor Victor Frankenstein. While in the country Billy sees a bucolic side of life, something better than being a street rat, and he pretends to be a poet to win a young lady's affection. Ah, but the good Doctor has his eye set on creating a new creature, a companion for Mr C if you will, and suddenly all paths converge in a way that sends Billy back to the comforts of London's rough and tumble street. It's there that he'll start to go by his grown name of Bill... Bill Sikes.

What? How did Dickens end up in all this?

For a new take on Frankenstein's monster this is an interesting idea, the blending of two fictional characters in one setting. But if you have a familiarity with Frankenstein and Oliver Twist it's hard to see the mash-up without your thoughts getting trapped in a corner of literary logic. How could these two worlds exist at the same time? Worse, I found while reading that I was starting to hear bits of the musical Oliver! play in my mind while scenes played out like an old 1930s movie staring Boris Karloff. Which is to say that Priestley does a good job catching the mood but the mood in this book feels borrowed at every turn. I did like that Creecher was articulate, almost aristocratic in bearing, and he makes an interesting "mentor" if we are to believe that this particular Billy will become, in manner at least, like his Dickensian namesake.

So for the idea in general, I like, but I don't know that it's going to stick with me over time.

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