Scarper Jack and the Bloodstained Room

Written by Christopher Russell
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Hal McNulty

London, 1860s. Eleven-year-old chimney sweep, Jack Tolchard, is inside the well-to-do Shorey family’s chimney. The walls are thin in places, and he overhears two men next door plotting a murder in Nunwell Street. Then, after a disastrous twelfth birthday celebration forced on him by his ne’er-do-well father, he finds himself drunk in a prison cell, where he meets April, a girl his own age who scavenges illegally in sewers. Later, they both meet schoolboy Rupert Shorey. Jack tells them what he overheard in the chimney of Rupert’s parents’ house.

When the newspapers announce Henry Featherstone’s murder in Nunwell Street, the unlikely trio decides to try and find the murderer. But who will believe a chimneysweep, an illiterate guttersnipe and a schoolboy?

I enjoyed this; it would make an excellent introduction to the 19th-century city, particularly the criminal underbelly. The depiction of mid-Victorian London is splendidly authentic, with railway cuttings gouging out huge tracts of land, and all the dirt, squalor and lawlessness of the world’s biggest city. Colonel Radcliffe, the assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, keen to use the new forensic technique of fingerprinting, might well have known Dickens’ friend, Inspector Field.

I particularly liked the way the children were portrayed — their role is realistically limited: Rupert, for example, must be home for tea, otherwise his mother will worry; April can’t read but she knows all about the London underworld, including how to close and lock a window from the outside; and Jack is expert at climbing. They gradually unravel the mystery piecemeal and they make mistakes, some of which prove to be dangerous. They also have to learn to understand and accept each other and to discard their different prejudices.

I think both boys and girls of 11 plus will enjoy this book.

–Elizabeth Hawksley


Scarper Jack is an interesting book about a sweep’s boy who hears a murder being planned. So he then tried to figure out who did it. I like Scarper Jack because Christopher Russell wrote it with many twists and you don’t know what’s going to happen next, so it’s very surprising.

It’s set in Victorian times and the main character (who is called Jack), is very secretive and likes to keep himself to himself. The book has quite a lot of action. It’s interesting to find out how people of that time lived, and what it was like being a chimney boy.

The book though does not describe as much as it could and so I didn’t get a very clear picture in my head of the way the story unravelled. I didn’t quite understand some parts. I would recommend it to people of eleven and over.

–Hal McNulty (age 11)