F. E. Higgins was born in England but raised in Ireland. She lives and writes in a house that dates back to the fifteenth century, in a small village in rural Kent. THE BLACK BOOK OF SECRETS was her debut novel.
This polished debut from a British writer tantalizingly blends secrets and thick, evocative atmosphere. In an indeterminate, grim past (think Dickensian squalor by way of a Broadway stage set), the boy Ludlow Fitch flees the City, "a stinking place undeserving of a name," and his parents, who have betrayed him for the last time. Chance (or is it destiny?) leads him to remote Pagus Parvus and to another newcomer, Joe Zabbidou, who sets himself up as a pawnbroker. But Zabbidou has a sideline: he pays good money for secrets. One by one the villagers come to him at midnight to unburden themselves-and they spill some doozies. The undertaker has dug up corpses, to be sold to a medical school; the butcher served his father a pie of rat, mouse, beetles and worms. As Ludlow inscribes the secrets in Zabbidou's Black Book, he fights down his suspicions of Zabbidou even as he joins the villagers in their hatred of Jeremiah Ratchet, the wealthy villain to blame for their misery and evil deeds. Higgins, framing her book as texts discovered in a hollowed wooden leg, expertly sustains the audience's curiosity, revealing just enough information to keep readers riveted. And for all the grisly details, the novel gets at important themes about self-determination and trust. Original and engrossing. Ages 9-12. (Oct.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Gr 5-8-In F. E. Higgins's mysterious medieval tale (Feiwel & Friends, 2007), Ludlow Fitch escapes the miserable squalor of city life and finds himself in the village of Pagus Parvus. A pickpocket by trade, Ludlow narrowly escaped from despicable parents who were determined to pull his teeth out for profit. Unaccustomed to kindness, Ludlow is baffled when another newcomer to the village, Joe Zabbidou, offers to take him on as his assistant. Joe opens a pawn shop in the village where, by day, he pays generously for worthless chamber pots and wooden legs, but trades in secrets at night. Gravediggers and bookbinders, butchers and coffin makers all make their way to Joe's shop to divulge their most shameful stories-and Joe trades these secrets for cash. Ludlow's job is to write them all down in the Black Book of Secrets. Narrator James Daniel Wilson is amazing. He infuses each character with a distinct voice and personality and listeners will be quickly drawn in by his performance which brings the misty, creepy dankness of medieval Europe to life. Higgin's debut novel is a unique and absorbing tale that libraries will want to add to their collections. A gem.-Tricia Melgaard, Centennial Middle School, Broken Arrow, OK Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.