f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: <i>Mr. Timothy</i>—a review

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mr. Timothy—a review

I’m a streaky reader. If reading were baseball, I’d be the equivalent of a batter going 1-23 then 18-20, then 5-18, etc. These days my hours have opened up in the evening for longer stretches and so I’ve been able to pound out two longish novels consecutively and have Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead waiting on the coffee table.

As for Louis Bayard's Mr. Timothy. I’d seen this book mentioned last year at Salon or some such site, but it slipped off my radar until I unearthed a post over Thanksgiving for my “Best Of…” week that included a mention of it. My library happened to have a copy on the shelf and what with some other Christmas Carol-ish things happening in my life, it seemed a good time to sit down with it.

Overall, very engaging. I’d equate it with Caleb Carr’s The Alienist. (Similar covers, even.) Basically a literary historical thriller written with vivid historicity, a vibrant voice, solid action, and some depth of meaning under its sodden greatcoats and flashing butcher’s blades.

Remember when we spoke before of the scales of 1-10. This would rank as a solid 5 on the craft/story scale.

The basic story is that Timothy “Tiny Tim” Cratchit has grown up. He’s now trying to escape from the well-meaning but stifling patronage of his “Uncle” Ebeneezer who, as Dicken’s says, is still true to his word to be kind and giving.

Like his Uncle, Mr. Timothy is haunted by his own ghosts—mainly his father’s—who drive him to escape into the less respectable parts of London. Here he becomes embroiled in a mystery involving dead girls. At stake are not only the safety of more innocent girls but Mr. Timothy’s self-definition.

The blending of action sequences and interior monologues about being the narrator of your own story is handled more deftly than one might expect and Bayard creates a number of instantly engaging characters.

The book ends, of course, on yet another Christmas for the Cratchit’s and to Bayard’s supreme credit he didn’t once fall back on a single “God Bless Us, Every One” joke. He’s definitely a better man than I.