The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard
19th century, Southampton, England. Fourteen-year-old Gully Potchard is a printer’s delivery boy looking for a start in life. He lives with his theatrical cousins, the Marvels; all are talented if somewhat over the top, and he feels very ordinary beside them. But Gully has an unexpected talent: he is psychic and can sense where people and things are.
Then he meets an old acquaintance, the criminal pet-kidnapper Nathan Boldree, who manipulates him into joining his gang. Gully tries desperately to wriggle out of it, but soon he’s embroiled in all sorts of skulduggery, especially after meeting eleven-year-old Agnes Glass, whose cat has gone missing. Agnes is thin and limps. She’s supposed to be delicate and she’s hardly ever allowed out. But she’s also intelligent, good at drawing, and quietly determined to expand her horizons. Meeting Gully and his cousin the lively Impey Marvel will bring unexpected changes to Agnes’s life. Soon the different strands, Gully, Impey and Agnes’s, intertwine, and the consequences for Gully’s job, Impey’s theatrical future, Agnes’s cat, and even Agnes herself look decidedly uncertain.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The cast list is positively Dickensian, from larger-than-life theatre people, not unlike the Crummles in Nicholas Nickleby, to seedy criminals living on the margins of society, to more vicious characters, like Nathan. Agnes’s mother, forever chairing Good Works, is surely related to Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House. Julia Lee is excellent at getting across place and mood – even the smells are authentically 19th century. The feel of Victorian life, what they ate, what they wore, the conditions they lived in are all utterly believable. My one niggle is that the plot is somewhat over-complicated and it’s very easy to muddle the threads. The cast-list would have benefited from being pruned a fraction.
Children of nine plus should enjoy this book. Recommended.
The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard is certainly not a book you can easily put down. Filled with clever coincidences, startling suspense and non-stop cliff-hangers, this is the story of a young man who is endlessly landing in trouble. I like the way tension is built up the whole way through with emotional and heart-stopping moments as Gully finds himself caught up in bizarre situations. However, it is not just the edgy twists and turns and sudden changes of plot that makes this such a good read; the author also manages to show the importance of friendship and kindness towards others, for example, when Gully befriends Agnes and together they help free his cousin, Impey, from her kidnappers. I really recommend this book as a very good read, and it has inspired me to write stories with similarly intriguing plots.