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The Traitor's Gate
Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2007
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The Traitor's Gate

John Huffam is sure the tall man's beard is false. He's sure of little else in November 1849, the year he is fourteen, the year his father is sentenced to London's Whitecross Street Prison.

Maybe the man following John—who claims to be one Inspector Copperfield—can explain why. Surely, Pa isn't prepared to reveal the truth, any more than the jovial bailiff, Mr. Tuckum, who knows something, but remains mum. Or the little Frenchman, Mr. Farquatt, who courts John's sister but seems most keen on Pa's work at the Naval Ordinance Office. Or Mr. O'Doul, the Irishman who insists Pa owes him the unimaginable sum of three hundred pounds.

Or what of the one-legged, single-mindedly fierce Sergeant Muldspoon, John's teacher? What about the boy's great-great-aunt, Lady Euphemia Huffam, who could pay the debt but won't for reasons of her own? What about the secretive Mr. Snugsbe of All Hallows Church, who hides himself away in the City's most voluminous coat?

Then there's Chief Inspector Ratchet of Scotland Yard, who is after somebody for some crime or other. True, John has a new friend and ally in Sary the Sneak … but what has even she got up her sleeve?

What John learns on his own is that there's a traitor on the loose, somewhere. And he must uncover the villain—no matter who it might be.

Story Behind the Story

If you have read these notes of mine with any regularity you will have surely noticed that the nineteenth century British writer, Charles Dickens, has had considerable influence on my reading life and writing. I was introduced to him by my mother, who had a multi-volume set of his works on her shelves, and adored his writing, as countless others have. I knew an elderly English professor who read Dickens every night to his wife, night after night, for many, many years.

I don’t know when I started to read him, but in one sense of another I have never stopped. At a minimum, A Christmas Carol is required December reading, and it never fails to move me.

Traitors’ Gate might be called my homage to Dickens. Set in London, England, in 1849, it is full of references to the great writer, some blatant, some sly. On the blatant side, my protagonist, John Huffam, takes his name from Dickens’ full name, Charles John Huffam Dickens. Moreover, the plot derives from a crucial incident in young Dickens’ life, when his father was imprisoned for debt. read more

Awards and Honors

School Library Journal, 2007, starred review


“This is a Victorian tale charmingly told in Victorian fashion. Avi’s love of the period is evident in how vividly, and without romanticizing, he brings London, teeming with eccentric characters, smells, and sounds, to life. Indeed, the city becomes a central character. With plenty of period detail, this action-packed narrative of twists, turns, and treachery is another winner from a master craftsman.” (School Library Journal)

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