Title: Montmorency: thief, liar, gentleman?
Author: Elanor Updale
Genre: YA historical/crime/spy fiction
Summary: After three years in prison as a medical experiment, Prisoner 493 has a reconstructed body, a new name, a new double identity, and a new idea to get rich. Using the London sewer system, Scarper perpetrates ingenius burglaries while his alter ego, the aristocratic Montmorency, uses the sales from his stolen goods to live the high life. Montmorency/Scarper is his own accomplice. But it's a risky business, and one that Montmorency knows he can't keep up forever. Sooner or later, as this not-so-common criminal moves higher in the circles of London society, he's going to slip. Montmorency and Scarper can't both live in the same body -- he'll have to choose which one survives...
In 5 words:
Fun. This story takes you from jail to a five-star hotel; from the sewers to the opera house. Scarper/Montmorency is (are?) just the right mixture of smart, bold, meticulous, and criminal. Scarper's exploits in the sewers are just as entertaining as Montmorency's adventures in the upper crust of Victorian London. There's always that risk of discovery that keeps the tension high. +Music nerd points for including the opera.
Clever. As a theatre person, this book was enormously entertaining to read. To construct his double identity, Scarper/Montmorency uses the same techniques of imitation and observation that actors do. There's also some social satire: a common thief tricks everyone into thinking he's an aristocrat. Scarper/Montmorency is completely isolated and can't trust anyone, so the book doesn't have much in the way of dialogue -- yet Updale gets right into his head, and his narrative isn't boring for a minute.
Smelly. Scarper and the sewers...Dr. Farcett and his experiments...prison life...spies...theft...the hanging of a (mostly) innocent man...prostitute landladies...Scarper's scars...Scarper's jerk-face treatment of the maid...There's a big element of "unsavory" here.
Occasionally disturbing. I love Montmorency/Scarper's flaws and fears. He has 3 identities: Prisoner 493, Scarper, and Montmorency -- but you never find out his original name or where he came from. Who is this guy? By the end of the book, even he doesn't seem to know. Scarper seems like the most overtly "bad" identity -- but there are unsavory qualities to Montmorency as well. He's vain, materialistic, and likes the thrill of being Scarper a little too much to say that he's the "good" identity. I have to wonder about the future moral and mental survival of this character. He's so comparmentalized and paranoid and conflicted.
Overall rating: 4/5 stars (really liked it)
I'd recommend it to: Actors, opera geeks, people who like historical or crime fiction, YA or older MG readers.