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That loveable rogue, the Artful Dodger, is one of the most memorable and amusing characters in all of English literature. Oliver Twist ended with Dodger Jack Dawkins arrested for the theft of a silver snuff box and transported to Australia. But what happened next? James Benmore explores that idea in Dodger, which takes up the story six years after the events of Oliver Twist.
The story begins with a seemingly-wealthy Dawkins returning to England with a full pardon accompanied by his valet, an Aborigine called Warrigal. Enthusiastic at the prospect of a reunion with Fagin, Nancy and his former gang, the Dodger soon discovers that this London is very different to the one he left six years ago. With most of his former friends dead or ruined and a new breed of policeman running the streets, can the Dodger pick up the pieces and continue where his old life left off?
Dodger is an exciting, action packed adventure set in the murky underworld of Victorian London. The Dodger has a mission; to retrieve a precious jewel hidden inside a wooden doll that Fagin gave to 'his favourite'. But just who was Fagin's favourite? Finding the answer literally means the difference between life and death for our hero.
The narrative is written in the first person, through the eyes of the Dodger himself, which gives the reader an inside perspective on how he thinks and feels. The characterisation of Dodger is spot-on, exactly as I would have imagined him as a young adult. Benmore has a natural talent for writing characters and there are some wonderful examples in this book. He expertly emulates Dickens' style for creating memorable individuals. I particularly liked Kat Dawkins, the thieving, whoring, odd-eyed mother of the Dodger, who really deserves a spin off book of her own. Benmore also manages to cleverly sneak a few well-known Dickens characters into the story for a cameo. Finding them all proved to be an interesting challenge.
Despite the engaging story and memorable characters, the book also has some major flaws. The language used in the book is generally inconsistent, with the story narrated in a combination of faux-cockney and the Queen's English. Benmore also uses certain words far too frequently in the text, cove being the main offender. Another problem I had with the book was the inclusion of a rather crude and explicit sex scene, as well as several uses of the F-word in the final few chapters. I may sound like a purist, but in my opinion, a writer undertaking a sequel to such a well-loved classic should stick to the spirit of Dickens' original work.
However, I did enjoy the story immensely and found it very difficult to put down, reading all 405 pages in two marathon reading sessions and laughing out loud through most of it. The book is set to have a sequel, which I will be looking forward to with 'great expectations!'
I reviewed this book under my name previously on the website www.thebookbag.co.uk. I thank the publisher for my review copy.