Dodger, by Terry Pratchett.
Narrated by Stephen Briggs for Harper Audio
Length: 10 hours, 30 minutes
Reviewed by Dave Thompson:
It starts with a brawl in the rain. When a young woman attempts to escape her captors, teenage Dodger pops up through a manhole and lays into them with a set of brass knuckles. Dodger finds the girl sanctuary with the help of journalist Charlie Dickens, then the two quickly begin an investigation to find out who the girl is, and what she’s trying to escape from. A rollicking adventure above and below the cobblestone streets of London ensues. And it’s a pure, simple, listening delight – the kind of book you don’t want to stop listening to.
This is not a retelling of Oliver Twist. Instead, Dodger himself becomes the inspiration for one of the characters in that novel, and for a lot more of Dickens’ work. (Spotting all the Dickensian Easter Eggs in this is great fun.) Without a doubt, though, this is a love letter to Charlie Dickens, Henry Mayhew, and the working class of London.
The plot isn’t the most original or complicated, but it’s written and told expertly. Best of all: the characters are ones I want to hang out with over and over again. The relationship between Dodger and Charlie crackles – it’s just a joy to witness the respect and rapport and that builds between them. You can’t shake the feeling that Dodger himself, despite whatever blows life has landed him, is a good kid who is always trying to do his best for people. He’s no Oliver Twist. Like all good detectives, he’s a very proactive hero, one we can unequivocally root for. Charlie is a man who believes the world can be better than it is, and he’s found the best way to do that is by telling stories that may not always be factual, but that are rooted firmly in truth. Simplicity, the mysterious young woman Dodger and Charlie are trying to protect, is not quite as simple as her name might appear. She’s not terribly complicated, but despite being the damsel in distress, she exerts a certain amount of agency over her circumstances.
Dodger is straight-up historical fiction. If there’s a speculative element to it, it’s so slight I can’t recall it. There’s also a certain retro flavor to it – not just in the Victorian London setting, but in the way Pratchett tells the tale. It’s very easy to imagine this as a Guy Ritchie film – in fact, I often found myself playing the theme song from Shaft! over and over in my imagination between listens. Despite taking place in the 1830s, Dodger has a distinct 70s vibe to it.
Terry Pratchett is an author I’ve had limited experience with. I’ve read one Discworld book, and listened to another, and while I enjoyed them, they didn’t wow me as they have many of my friends, though I did love Good Omens. After listening to Dodger, I’m really excited to explore more of Pratchett’s work. Discworld? Probably. But certainly his non-Discworld novels. And if those books are narrated by Stephen Briggs, all the better! Briggs gave a fantastic reading for this one, conveying the dry tone of the characters and Pratchett, and never losing the essence of fun that permeates the story.
All in all, it’s a delightfully fast-paced ride from beginning to end. And like any good roller coaster, as soon as it’s over, you’ll consider hopping back in line to do it all over again.
Note: Thanks to Harper Audio for providing me a copy of this to listen to.