Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Modern Dickens with "Jack Dawkins"

Review of “Jack Dawkins” by Charlton Daines

Five Stars


Jack Dawkins, once known as the Artful Dodger in the streets of London, was sent to Australia on a prison ship when he was little more than a boy. Now he has returned to find that London has changed while the boy has turned into a man.

With few prospects provided by his criminal past and having developed mannerisms that allow him to move amongst a higher strata of society, Jack turns his back on the streets that would have primed him as a successor to the murderer, Bill Sykes, and quickly remodels himself as a gentleman thief. 

New acquaintances and a series of chance encounters, including one with his old friend Oliver, create complications as remnants of his past come back to plague him. Jack is forced to struggle for a balance between his new life and memories that haunt him with visions of the derelict tavern where Nancy used to sing.

My Review:

I want to preface this review by saying I read it from the viewpoint of someone who has never read Charles Dickens. I have, but it was years ago. I wanted to do this so I could find out if it could stand alone as a novel in its own right, and not dependent on former knowledge.

Jack Dawkins, The Artful Dodger, returns to England from ten years in the Australian convict outback, having escaped from there. His return is illegal, not having served his full sentence of life, but for this clever child thief, that was not a hindrance. He endeavors to find anyone connected with his former circle of child thieves, especially Oliver Brownlow, a young man he had helped kidnap years ago, and who was ultimately rescued from a life on the streets with the accidental help of Jack. Now Jack is back in London and determined to look up Oliver and regain that connection. 

What follows is an in-depth and insightful exploration of one man’s searching for his place in a society that didn’t care about him as a child, and cares even less now he’s a young man. Forced to find his own way, he finds that his former skills come in handy, affording his living but fighting his own conscious and re-discovering his morality. In this process, he reluctantly makes connections with even less desirable characters than he was associated with in his childhood, and gets himself into situations that prove more than troublesome. 

The plot was engrossing and believable, and it did indeed stand alone as a novel in its own right, with no dependence on former knowledge of the book or the stage play. I was prepared to be bored and was pleasantly surprised to find myself immediately engrossed in the story. It flowed naturally and the characters were well developed and easy to remember. They were certainly not what I call “cookie cutter characters”. You could easily envision their pasts and how they grew up, and what made them do what they did. 

I especially enjoyed the play on morality, the theme I took being “nurture VS nature”. Despite his upbringing on the streets, being taught to steal to make a living and the warped morals that were instilled in him from a very young age, he finds he still has feelings and a conscious that, I think, surprises even him. There are things he just won’t consider, showing he is innately a good man, despite his dubious livelihood, knowing no other way.

The atmosphere and descriptions of the location during that era is striking, allowing the reader to “see” the difference in the areas around the city. 

I did find the brief love story concerning Jack and Lilly, the modest flower girl, a bit unrealistic, only based on brief glimpses and even briefer meetings, but that could be because my background is in romance writing. I tried hard to find flaws in this novel and this was the best I could come up with. 

All in all, a great read, and I would highly recommend it, both to those familiar with the work it was based on, and for those unfamiliar with Dickens work. I enthusiastically rate this as a five star read.

Lynette Willows
Author of “No Gentleman Is He”, first in the epic Sons of Liberty series

Original review can be viewed here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/646528278