Ludlow Fitch, a young boy (somewhere around 11-14) lives a hard life in the City, where his parents have taught him to pick-pocket for his and their livelihoods. When his parents and the dentist, Barton Gumbroot, try to pull his teeth out, one by one, for a small profit to his parents, Ludlow escapes his parents and the City and finds himself in the small town of Pagus Parvus.
There, he meets local tyrant Jeremiah Ratchet and the new secret pawnbroker, Joe Zabbidou. Zabbidou takes on Ludlow as his assistant and Ludlow begins to learn what a secret pawnbroker really does, why, and how the people of the world are impacted by it.
Zabbidou and his Black Book of Secrets, of which Ludlow becomes secretary and keeper, infuriate Ratchet, who sees his power slipping from him in an intolerable manner. Ratchet and his efforts to undermine and undo all the work that Zabbidou has done with his secret pawnbroking ultimately culminate in a town-wide confrontation, from which all the involved players will learn something.
Higgins creates a fast-paced, interesting, original, and fun tale. The story is subtly dark and subtly fantastic. This would be a great book (reading level) for older elementary school kids and younger middle schoolers. Of course Higgins' story can appeal to all levels, and I quite enjoyed my read!
FOUR of five stars.