Poor, hand working, scrappy young men can make for very boring heroes. Too good, too bland, etc. But in the right hands, they can make marvelous heroes, because the right hands can draw the thin lines between too good and just good enough. And thankfully, Tom Angleberger has an excellent pair of hands. He's already proven that with his origami skills, but he proves it again with Horton Halfpott; Or, the Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, the Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset. Which has, by the way, the longest and most fabulous title of the year (of which I am aware, that is).
Poor, hardworking, scrappy young Horton Halfpott works in the kitchens of Smugwick Manor, cleaning the dishes, working tirelessly for his one chance a week to go home and give his mother his solitary penny and ask her if they finally have enough money to send for a doctor for his ailing father. Except for these Sunday mornings, he is at the mercy of Miss Neversly and her trusty spoon, which is often used the flog the ears of poor, hardworking kitchen boys. The entire household is at the mercy of M'Lady Luggertuck, and her no good son Luther, who is plain evil, so to speak. One day, the family's precious Lump, possibly the world's largest and certainly the ugliest diamond it the world, goes missing and a mystery is soon afoot. In comes a famous detective to apprehend the criminal and find the lump, and with him comes three story seeking reporters, eager to catch the scoop. It's a wonder that through all this hubbub, Horton is able to meet the lovely and kind Miss Celia Sylvan-Smythe, whose smile disarms are dear hero. Needless the say, there are more thefts, more beatings with spoons, some thrilling bravery and cunning thinking, some pirates and a plank and a happy ending for those that deserve one.
In the Acknowledgements, Angleberger writes that he was inspired by Charles Dickens, and it shows. The whole matter is very Dickensian, from characters names and situations to the occasionally slight but very sly humor. It reads like a 19th century novel, with it's omniscient narrator prone to addressing the "Reader" quite often (in my mind, every time I thought, "Reader, I married him"). There are some big laughs and little laughs, and even some social commentary thrown in for good measure, though it never beats you over the head with anything harsher than a feather. And Horton really is a strong character to build a narrative around, for he is good and kind and hardworking, but also clever and longs for knowledge and adventure. Miss Celia Sylvan-Smythe is a wonderful companion for Horton, because she is also clever and kind, and will accept no nonsense from her legion of suitors.
Horton Halfpott is a quick read, easily done in one sitting, but its virtues outlast its length. I know we have more origami to come from Mr. Angleberger, but I wouldn't mind more of Mr. Halfpott or even a spin-off detailing the mystery-solving adventures of the three stable boys. Basically, I just want more Tom Angleberger. And soon, if you please. :)
Horton Halfpott; Or, the Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, the Loosening of M'Lady Luggertuck's Corset by Tom Angleberger
2011, Amulet Books