Picks and Pans Review: Mr. Timothy

updated 12/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/01/2003 AT 01:00 AM EST

NOVEL

by Louis Bayard

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Tiny Tim lives. In this dazzling blend of literary fiction and white-knuckle thriller, Bayard brings back the angelic cripple of A Christmas Carol and nearly outdoes Charles Dickens. Timothy Cratchit, now in his 20s, is living at a London bordello in return for teaching its mistress to read. Thanks to his "Uncle N"—Scrooge—Timothy is better in body but sick in spirit, having been given the education and airs of a gentleman but not the means to become one. He is also haunted: first by his dead father, Bob Cratchit, whose face he sees in every stranger's, then by the terror-stricken eyes, clawlike hands and sinister brand on the bodies of two girls he stumbles across. Aided by an irresistibly cheeky street urchin, Timothy tries to solve their murders, only to become the quarry of a shadowy nobleman and a knife-wielding renegade policeman. Soaring language, memorable characters, splendidly atmospheric settings and a heartrending theme of parental love and loss make Mr. Timothy a rival to last year's Victorian blockbuster The Crimson Petal and the White.

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