Review by D.A Lascelles
Imagine if Charles Dickens had written Ocean’s 11 and set it in Victorian London instead of modern day Las Vegas. Got that image in your head? Good. Now imagine that as well as this concept he had decided to write it as a sequel to one of his already published works. Actually, don’t bother doing that at all because you actually don’t need to. Dodge and Twist is exactly that book and is all that it promises to be. Well, apart from Charles Dickens writing it, that is. We can unfortunately never have the pleasure of a new Dickens classic. However, Tony Lee manages to fill the old chap’s shoes remarkably well.
Dodge and Twist reintroduces us to Oliver Twist, last seen being sent off to the life of the heir to a wealthy gentleman. Twist has fallen on hard times in the intervening years and is returning to London with the aim of sorting out some difficulties with his late foster father’s estate – namely that the paperwork proving that Twist is the heir seems to have gone missing. On his way to the lawyers he bumps into his old friend, Jack Dawkins, once known as the Artful Dodger, who seems to be stepping into Fagin’s shoes as a lynchpin of the local underworld. Dodger coerces Twist into helping his old friend perform the heist of the century – stealing the Koh-I-Nor diamond. What follows is a rollercoaster ride of a heist plot with the added spice of cameos and major roles by various characters from the original novel – for example, Noah Claypole, the bully who torments Oliver during his stint as an Undertaker’s assistant in the original, plays a large role as ‘the Bill Sykes to Dodger’s Fagin’. Fagin himself even appears, despite having been executed for his crimes. Though whether his ghost is actually there in a ‘Christmas Carol’ sense or merely as a visible representation of the insanity of one character is hard to determine. Lee quite wisely leaves this judgement up to the reader. As the book progresses and we revisit various reminders of the past, Dodger reveals his grand Master plan – a complicated beast of a scheme that makes most Master criminals look badly organised – and there are hints of a darker motive beneath his plot, one that smacks of revenge.
There is always a risk when a writer used to working in graphic novels moves into another format and tries their hand at a novel. The skills involved are different enough that you can never be sure they will successfully make the transfer. I remember being concerned (unduly it turns out) when Neil Gaiman made the switch. Lee is better known at present for his graphic novel work. He has worked on X Men, Doctor Who and Starship Troopers and has released his own original works, including Midnight Kiss and Hope Falls (which is currently being prepped for a movie release). He has also been responsible for adapting a number of novels including G.P Taylor’s Shadowmancer and several Anthony Horowitz books. There is no doubt he is a skilled graphic novel writer. The question therefore has to be: can he do a Gaiman and transfer some of that success into the novel market?
The answer is a definite yes. Though there are some minor issues with the execution, the overall effect is a riveting read. The plot is full of (appropriately enough) entertaining twists and all the high adrenaline action you expect from the heist premise. The story is balanced between this and the homage to Dickens. However, the main issues with the story revolve around some elements of the plot where it seems that things are taken in a certain direction purely to shoehorn in a reference to the original – a location, a character or an idea. Many of the references are natural and do occur quite organically but there are one or two which test plausibility, even after a key issue about Dodger’s motives are revealed later in the tale which mitigates a lot of them. However, this does not detract from the overall fun concept of the book and a lot of the references are true both to Dickens’ vision and Lee’s love and knowledge of Victorian London. This is a well researched book with a lot of effort gone into ensuring it feels right for a sequel to a popular classic. If you like Dickens you may be entertained by the attention to details from the original classic. If you like heist drama or Victoriana there is something in this for you too. Either way, it is well worth picking a pocket or two in order to have the funds to buy this.