The Black Book of Secrets -- F. E. Higgins
My name is Ludlow Fitch. Along with countless others, I had the great misfortune to be born in the City, a stinking place undeserving of a name. And I would have died there if it had not been for Ma and Pa. They saved me, though it was not their intention, when they delivered me, their only son, into the hands of Barton Gumboot. This act of betrayal was possibly the greatest single piece of luck I ever had. Ma and Pa's diabolic plan brought about the end of one existence and the beginning of another: my life with Joe Zabbidou.
When Ludlow is first taken in by Joe Zabbidou, he believes that Zabbidou is simply a pawnbroker. It doesn't take long for Ludlow to realize that Zabbidou is something more: he is a pawnbroker of secrets. Clients come to him at midnight and tell him their deepest, darkest secrets; Zabbidou writes the secrets down in his black book and pays handsomely. Upon learning that Ludlow is literate, Zabbidou offers him a position as assistant.
An author's note at the beginning explains that Higgins discovered the Black Book and Ludlow's Memoirs rolled up in a wooden leg. The parts of the story not covered by the documents, she explains, are imagined. So the story regularly alternates between Ludlow's narrative and narrator's -- while I didn't immediately take to the rhythm of the storytelling, the story itself pulled me in.
While Ludlow & Co. do live in an alternate reality, there are many details about life in the late 1800's that readers of historical fiction will enjoy -- especially those who like reading about the more gruesome, less well-known details, like stealing and selling teeth, grave robbers, body snatchers and Sweeney Todd. The references made over the course of the story are more fully explained in an Addenda. If this becomes a series -- and as there were many questions raised over the course of the story that were never answered, I suspect it will -- I'd love to see a bibliography and/or a list of recommended reading added to future installments.
Try this one on fans of the Montmorency books and Lawrence's The Wreckers -- there's less character development than the former and less action than the latter, but the gruesome history element should make it a good match nonetheless. Oh, and Eoin Colfer blurbed it, so that's a thought, too.