Montmorency: thief, liar, gentleman?, a British import from debut author Eleanor Updale, is a smart, stylish antidote to the proliferation of Buffy novelizations masquerading as mysteries these days. In a London cellblock in 1875, career criminal Montmorency is serving time for burglary. Captured while fleeing police, Montmorency suffered several grievous wounds that attract the attention of a brilliant young doctor named Robert Farcett. When Dr. Farcett displays Montmorency's newly healed body before the membership of London's Scientific Society, Montmorency overhears a presentation on the city's new sewer system that will change his life forever. Once released from prison, Montmorency uses his knowledge of the underground tunnels to steal from some of London's wealthiest neighborhoods. But in order to enjoy his new riches, he must assume a dual lifestyle. By day he is Mr. Montmorency, a mysterious opera going gentleman who resides in one of the city's most affluent hotels. By night, he is drain-dwelling Scarper, a smelly character who keeps a room in a dirty boarding house. How long can he keep up this agonizing pretense before someone, perhaps even the good doctor, recognizes his scars and exposes him as a fraud?
Middle school fans of John Bellairs, Lemony Snicket, and Philip Pullman, will delight in plowing through the cliff hanging pages of Montmorency. Updale's prose is clear and plot-driven, full of the kind of fascinating detail about the quirky Victorian thief's dual existence that young mystery readers adore. And, with a sequel coming in 2005, they won't groan too loudly at the wide open, although wholly satisfying ending. (Ages 10 to 14) --Jennifer Hubert