Fourteen-year-old George is the oldest of the seven Treet children who, together with their father, are touring thespians, forever on the edge of poverty, but forever cheerful. Their lives are shadowed by the twice yearly arrival of “the Stranger” who hands Mr Treet a sum of money and disappears. When George is fourteen, the Stranger appears for the last time, and Mr Treet reveals to George that he is actually the son of a nobleman, Sir John Dexter. The Treet family returns George to his father’s home, but when he arrives there is some doubt as to his identity. This is overcome, and a fondness seems to grow up between Sir John and George.
Sir John’s black sheep brother, Richard, is hiding out nearby, having escaped from Newgate, while George’s cousins and aunt are housed with the Dexters. It is clear that somebody is trying to kill George, but the only obvious culprit, Richard Dexter, protests his innocence. Eventually it is revealed that George is Mr Treet’s own son, and that the real George Dexter died young, but Sir John did not wish the estate to pass to his brother’s family, and so invented the story of his son’s abduction and later return. Sir John is killed trying to kill George, the estate passes to Richard, and the Treets are set up in London by the generosity of Sir John’s widow.
Leon Garfield has the ability to present a story in such a way that one feels the authenticity of the characters and surroundings while having no difficulty in following the plot or understanding the feelings of those in it. This story has its share of intrigue, whose solution is not too difficult to divine, but it has also a wealth of human relationships, mostly involving George. He loves the younger Treets and they him, even when they believe each other to be of different families. He also tries to love those he believes to be his true mother and father, in spite of the difficulties. George endeavours to think the best of all the characters, even Richard Dexter, who for most of the book is the villain of the piece. The character of Mrs Montague is the only cloud on the horizon; she is a medium of sorts, and it is unclear whether her role is taken seriously, but on balance it seems to be.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the editor of goodtoread.org.