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Remember, Remember: A Victorian Mystery

by Sheldon Goldfarb
240 pages,
ISBN: 1904781438


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Review of: Remember, Remember: A Victorian Mystery
by M. Wayne Cunningham

UBC professor Sheldon Goldfarb's doctorate in Victorian literature, his life-long interest in history and his previous publications on William Makepeace Thackeray have served him extremely well for his debut young adult historical mystery novel, Remember, Remember. His story is an intriguingly entertaining mix of blackmail, murder, and youthful romance, shot through with large dollops of tension and suspense, and set in an age in England when the East India Co. was still an economic force to be reckoned with, the Darwin-Huxley debates over evolution were to be listened to, aggressive young women shouldering their way into the workforce as typing machine operators were to be wondered about, and public boarding school lads like 14-year-old Aleister Lister Smith were to be reprimanded for secretly reading The Count of Monte Cristo, or even worse, for participating in Guy Fawkes Day celebrations.
A shy but engagingly bright young fellow, Aleister (often called by his second name, "Lister") gets the shock of his life when he is removed from the security of his Latin and Greek studies in his Shrewsbury school and put to work as an undercover apprentice clerk and pretend nephew for Mr. Arthur Talbot, "a big brown bear" of a man and an insurance agent who is being threatened with blackmail at his firm in Manchester. Like a dutiful Sherlock-Holmes-in-training, Aleister sets out to solve the blackmailing while settling in to a Victorian family life style where Mrs. Talbot quilts or reads Thackeray's books, Mr. Talbot scolds him for not knowing more about the Fenians or lectures him on the emerging art of photography, and teenage daughter, Kate, sets his head spinning with her natural good looks, good-natured teasing and outspoken feminist views. Despite his attraction to Kate and the daily distractions of his workplace¨ rumours of an office romance surrounding the firm's first female employee, references to horse racing losses, allusions to the "mumbo-jumbo" meetings that various employees attend at the newly- formed YMCA, constant gossip about office secrets, and all kinds of hints about who the blackmailer might be¨Aleister inches forward, sorting good clues from bad. Eventually, he discovers that Mr. Talbot is being blackmailed for a good reason, and soon afterwards, that blackmail and murder have partnered during the diverting events of the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations¨particularly as the fireworks go off and the celebrants chant the well- known, "Remember, remember/The Fifth of November . . . " It is unfortunate that Mr. Talbot turns up at the wrong time and in the wrong place with his new-fangled photographic equipment and is arrested as a suspect in the murder. So it is Aleister who must, with Kate's able help and her dogged insistence on her father's innocence, sort out the last of the mystery and determine how blackmail has escalated into murder and where Talbot fits in this scheme of things.
Once the teenagers have tidied everything up, Aleister returns to the safety of his Shrewsbury school with his daily dose of Latin and Greek, occasional indulgences of The Count of Monte Cristo, and his leisurely dreams of being "a detective again with Kate." And if author Goldfarb is also dreaming of reuniting them, we can be sure we'll get a well-told and suspenseful story about refreshingly interesting characters in uniquely interesting times. So we say, "Dream on, Mr. Goldfarb. Dream on."
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