Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Black Book of Secrets

The Black Book of Secrets, by first time author F.E. Higgins is a compelling study in human nature with an interesting bit of magic adding flair to the story telling. Young pickpocket Ludlow Fitch narrowly escapes his drunken parent's diabolical plan to sell his teeth for profit, fleeing the City on the back of a carriage. Arriving in the village of Pagus Parvus, Ludlow immediately looks for a way to make a living and realizes his former skills as a pickpocket, while well honed, will not serve him well here; the village is destitute and it's inhabitants poor, mostly due to the greed of landlord Jeremiah Ratchet.

As chance would have it, Ludlow arrives in Pagus Parvus the same day as prosperous stranger Joe Zabbidou. Joe is a pawnbroker who, with little ado, sets up shop in one of the village's rundown building. After inviting Ludlow to join him for dinner, Joe reveals he is in need of an assistant for his business. Inqurining as to the exact nature of his business, Ludlow learns that Joe is the Secret Pawnbroker. He listens to secrets and pays the owner cash for their trouble. Able to read and write, Ludlow's job is to record the secrets into the Black Book only writing on the clean pages and never reading what has been written prior.

One by one the villagers sell their secrets to Joe and leave the shop lighter in spirit. However, the secrets follow a pattern as the villager's difficulties forge a path directly to Jeremiah Ratchet. After each person sells their secret to Joe they inquire "what of Jeremiah?" and are told, "Be patient." Business flourishes, soon the villagers forget how miserable they were and become determined to take care of Jeremiah themselves regardless of potential for a dangerous outcome. As the story unfolds short vignettes, featuring tales within the story, present chapters from Ludlow's memoirs, as well as extracts from the Black Book of Secrets. Higgins weaves a chilling fantasy world that will leave readers enthralled.

"So wish me luck on my journey. I promise whatever I find I will bring it to you as quickly as I can. Until then, as Joe would have said, Vincit qui patitur." (p. 268)

Addenda to the book include information regarding facts included in several of the secrets such as a brief history on grave robbing and tooth pulling in the 1800s. The UK site Fantastic Fiction reports Higgins currently has a two book deal with the next title due out in 2008.

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