The Black Book of Secrets by F.E. Higgins
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
This isn't horror, but has a sort of a Victorian Gothic feel. For a middle grade novel, it has kind of a dark, almost pessimistic tone. That is not to say that good has no chance of winning out in this book, but it has some unfortunately true insights on human nature that are far from uplifting. But what I did like about it was that the ability to choose for yourself the decisions you make, even though people like the main villain thrive on manipulating peoples' weaknesses. In the end, we can make the decision not to do wrong, even if it's harder on us in the end. At the same time, we see the effects of growing up in harsh circumstances, with parents who are cruel and amoral. How can you get an idea of right and wrong under those circumstances? Some might argue that you don't, but as Ludlow shows, most of us, except for true sociopaths, are born with a conscience, or what CS Lewis call natural law. Even if it was easier to do the wrong thing, Ludlow was troubled by his actions, as many are in the small township of Pagus Parvus, which makes Joe Zabbidou's work as the Secret Pawnbroker so much more important.
Atmosphere is crucial, and the author sets it very well in this novel. Although I initially wondered where the sinister and horrific elements would be revisited after the very chilling beginning, when I realized it wasn't that kind of book, I settled in and enjoyed it for what it was. A story about human nature and the good and the bad inherent in our humanity. Even with a lousy human being like Jeremiah Ratchet, it's clear that he still has the same basic needs, although his soul seems corrupted by avarice and selfishness. But does that mean someone should take away his ability to make the choice to do right? Ludlow watches this dilemma take place as the townspeople in Pagus Parvus look to Joe as the divine avenger when that is not his role at all. Instead he urges them to be patient and let justice do its work in the end. Anyone will agree that is not a comfortable process, as justice sometimes seems very slow to come in many circumstances.
This is an interesting book. A quick read that keeps you thinking. I wonder how a younger reader would see it, and if the lessons inherent in this book will have the same exact impact on that reader as it has on a reader of my age, who has seen a lot more of humanity in its varied humanness. In the end, The Black Book of Secrets is a thoughtful read for younger readers, that will make an older reader have something to ponder as well.
Overall rating: 3.5/5.0 stars.
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