Dick Turpin ‘dancing his final jig’ on the end of a rope, Jonathan Wild (well, his son anyway), a feisty lass in breeches masquerading as a dashing young highwayman, a Yorkshireman masquerading as a dashing French highwayman, Astounding Intrigue of National Importance – they’re all here in Charley Feather’s England of 1739. Pennington tells a tale which races up and down the Great North Road and in and out of the mean streets of London Town as fast as we can turn the pages. Charley Feather bravely rides every exciting twist and turn of the plot. We career along with our hero (or, as we soon discover, our heroine – and honestly, that’s not giving too much away) and young readers may well be tantalisingly not quite able to see what lies around the next dark and dangerous corner. Of course, you know it’ll all turn out fine for Charley in the end – I mean, handsome young Robert Major can’t really have drowned, can he? We’ll surely need him for the sailing-off-to-the-new-life-in-America ending.
Pennington has balanced things shrewdly. The language has a sense of ‘other times’ without being corny or opaque. The historical research is there, but not obtrusive. The villains are brutally villainous, the rogues likeably rogueish, the emerging awareness of attraction a little more overt than Geoffrey Trease used to suggest. Wounds heal rapidly and the squalor of London’s underworld washes off readily enough. Forget the notion that they don’t write ’em like that any more. Pennington does, and very enjoyably too.