In 1843, Charles Dickens brought us A CHRISTMAS CAROL and
introduced us to Tiny Tim, a pitiable lad who stole our hearts.
That fateful Christmas when young Tim hobbled around in wretched
style, old Ebenezer Scrooge spent a fitful night with three ghosts
who taught him some hard lessons about stinginess. Now, Louis
Bayard shows us Timothy Cratchit in his 23rd year, grown up yet
still quite a charmer. And "Uncle N," despite some unwise money
handling, pledges a monthly stipend to Tim and demands very little
in return --- just the occasional visit.
It is the 1860s, and young Mr. Cratchit has found himself lodging
in a bawdy house, tutoring the madam in reading in exchange for the
room. He leads a comfortable life, his crutch cast off long ago,
leaving him with a limp and some residual stiffness. The only thing
haunting him now is his father --- recently dead --- who
accompanies him on walks or appears atop stone walls with one leg
swinging down or perches himself out on a pier with a fishing pole.
Tim composes letters to him, searching for peace from every
infraction a child commits against his father in a lifetime. In so
doing, he writes some very eloquent words. He comes to understand
what the dead need from the living, and what the living seek from
One day, shortly before Christmas, Tim happens upon a small corpse,
that of a child in her preteens, branded with a grotesque "G." Not
long after that, he is confronted with another. He can't leave it
alone. He finds himself enchanted by the mystery and engrossed in
As Timothy is dealing with his personal ghosts, he catches a
glimpse of a girl fleeing through the streets below his window.
Their eyes meet for the briefest of moments, but it is long enough
to send him in search of her. Colin the Melodious, a shifty
youthful character whose trustworthiness is questionable, teams up
with Timothy in the quest --- for a fee, of course. Surprisingly,
maybe even for Colin, the nocturnal waif is found, a foreign child
named Philomela. A bond is quickly formed and the three begin the
arduous task of unraveling the mystery of the branded girls while
they themselves try to stay alive.
As with A CHRISTMAS CAROL, the story takes place one ancient
Christmas, with the fogs of London shrouding the streets with the
eerie unknown. If any thriller can be said to be heartwarming, this
spellbinder from Louis Bayard is just such a thriller. Throughout
its too-few pages, Mr. Bayard's characters stay true to themselves
and to their time, showing great complexity and some well-placed
irreverence. They come fairly alive on the pages.
I had never thought of Tiny Tim in his 20s, but Bayard's
imagination has blessed us with an excellent look at the fellow as
a young adult and fashioned a superb tale at the same time. And if
Dickens were here to read MR. TIMOTHY, I believe he might smile
broadly, even chuckle, well pleased. It is cleverly written with
just the right combination of droll wit, sidelong glances at
19th-century London and headlong suspense.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on January 22, 2011