'Dodger' by James Benmore6 December 2013
Great works of fiction create characters that appear to have an existence beyond the particular tale being told. It's always fascinating to wonder what happened to those characters before or after our brief encounter with them. Literary sequels and prequels have an honourable tradition (from 'The Wide Sargasso Sea' by Jean Rhys to the Gregory Maguire's novels 'Wicked' and 'Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister' (reviewed here in March 2008) and Andrew Motion's 'Treasure Island' sequel 'Silver' (reviewed here in May 2012)). There's something particularly compelling about those works that take relatively minor characters from an earlier story and put them centre stage (such as Tom Stoppard's 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead'). So I was pleased to discover James Benmore's novel 'Dodger' which brings Jack Dawkins – the Artful Dodger – back to London six years after having been transported to Australia for the theft of a silver snuff box at the end of 'Oliver Twist'. Dawkins discovers that London has changed in his absence: Fagin, Bill Sikes and Nancy are all dead and the introduction of the Peelers has made the business of picking pockets much more hazardous. 'Dodger' takes us back into Dickensian London but it's not Dickens. The characters are great fun and there's an intriguing mystery to be solved but this is an easy and enjoyable read that doesn't attempt a Dickensian style or much social comment. Still, Dawkins is an engaging young adult and his first-person narration (with its cockney accent) is entertaining and often very funny.