Jack Maggs - Peter Carey a tidy, pleasant entry within the wildly popular Victorian Mystery subgenre. or in this case, the slightly pre-Victorian Mystery subgenre. what is it about this era that holds so much fascination for readers? the most obvious guess is that the fans of these fictions always know that they will be enjoying luxurious expanses of gothic description, built on a foundation of cosseted repression meets wondrous discovery. Jack Maggs does not fail to satisfy on that level - and it is about a tenth the size of most of its kin.

the central character is foreboding and completely loveable, and the supporting characters are suitably dickensian yet multi-leveled in a very modern way. the plot is an elaborate series of charades, false paths and red herrings. the writing is splendid: quaintly victorian in style, naturally, but also at times as yearning as some of the characters themselves. much like its title character, it is a grim bit of business on the surface but a gentle and sweet book at heart - the kind of book that makes me want to befriend the author.

it is probably irresponsible to review the novel without mentioning its antecedent, Dickens' Great Expectations. i'm a fan of secret heroes within novels (Snape! Mr. Norrell! Ariel Hawksquill! Bunter!) and Magwitch has always been the not-so-secret hero of dickens' classic. Jack Maggs does no disservice to Pip's fearsome benefactor; the novel is almost an ode to that character. and it is satisfying, in a spiteful kind of way, to see Pip transformed into an essentially worthless cad. you always were a fookin' jackass, Pip.

all that said, the author's Oscar and Lucinda is his benchmark for me, so far.