Extract from the Black Book of Secrets – Ludlow's Confession Chapter Forty- Three Fragment from the Memoirs of Ludlow Fitch Chapter Forty-Four Page torn. The Black Book of Training Secrets · Read more The Black Book of Secrets ( Tales from the Sinister City, Book 1). Read more. The Black Book of Secrets. byHiggins, F. E. Publication date Topics Secrecy For print-disabled users. Borrow this book to access EPUB and PDF files.

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The Black Book of Secrets by F. E. Higgins. Feiwel and Friends, Running from a terrible past, Ludlow Fitch arrives in a remote village and becomes an. The Black Book of Secrets (review). Elizabeth Bush. Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Volume 61, Number 3, November. , p. (Review). Young pickpocket Ludlow Fitch manages to escape from the dank and squalid basement where the notorious tooth surgeon of Old Goat's Alley, Barton.

Extramarc University of Michigan. Identifier blackbookofsecre00higg. Identifier-ark ark: Isbn Lccn Page-progression lr. Pages Ppi Related-external-id urn: Scandate Scanner scribe6.

Scanningcenter sanfrancisco. Worldcat source edition View all 9 comments. This is one of those books that bedclothes and flashlights were invented for. Young pickpocket Ludlow Fitch escapes his frightful parents in the City and finds himself in the remote village of Pagus Parvus. There he's taken in as apprentice by another newcomer to the village, Joe Zabbidou as in "Zabbi Zabbi Dou!

At first Ludlow naturally thinks the purpose is blackmail, but that isn't it at all. I assume there's a paperback of this by now, but I haven't seen it. Not only is this a book you'll probably want to read again yourself, you're likely to find yourself forcing it on your friends.

The Black Book of Secrets

But that's not the only reason you might want to opt for the hardback. Whoever designed this Susan Walsh for the book and Rich Deas for the cover, it says here was obviously as nuts about the novel as I am, because everything about the production looks, feels and even smells appropriate for what's essentially a modern rendering of those books that have had generations of kids reading them obsessively and clandestinely.

My only quibble with The Black Book of Secrets is that Higgins seems to be setting herself up at the end for a sequel or even a series, and this is a book that should be left to stand alone as the wonderful creation it is; any sequel can only, by its very existence, detract. This isn't horror, but has a sort of a Victorian Gothic feel. For a middle grade novel, it has kind of a dark, almost pessimistic tone.

That is not to say that good has no chance of winning out in this book, but it has some unfortunately true insights on human nature that are far from uplifting. But what I did like about it was that the ability to choose for yourself the decisions you make, even though people like the main villain thrive on manipulating peoples' weaknesses. In the end, we can ma This isn't horror, but has a sort of a Victorian Gothic feel.

In the end, we can make the decision not to do wrong, even if it's harder on us in the end. At the same time, we see the effects of growing up in harsh circumstances, with parents who are cruel and amoral. How can you get an idea of right and wrong under those circumstances?

Some might argue that you don't, but as Ludlow shows, most of us, except for true sociopaths, are born with a conscience, or what CS Lewis call natural law.

Even if it was easier to do the wrong thing, Ludlow was troubled by his actions, as many are in the small township of Pagus Parvus, which makes Joe Zabbidou's work as the Secret Pawnbroker so much more important.

Atmosphere is crucial, and the author sets it very well in this novel. Although I initially wondered where the sinister and horrific elements would be revisited after the very chilling beginning, when I realized it wasn't that kind of book, I settled in and enjoyed it for what it was. A story about human nature and the good and the bad inherent in our humanity. Even with a lousy human being like Jeremiah Ratchet, it's clear that he still has the same basic needs, although his soul seems corrupted by avarice and selfishness.

But does that mean someone should take away his ability to make the choice to do right? Ludlow watches this dilemma take place as the townspeople in Pagus Parvus look to Joe as the divine avenger when that is not his role at all. Instead he urges them to be patient and let justice do its work in the end. Anyone will agree that is not a comfortable process, as justice sometimes seems very slow to come in many circumstances.

This is an interesting book. A quick read that keeps you thinking. I wonder how a younger reader would see it, and if the lessons inherent in this book will have the same exact impact on that reader as it has on a reader of my age, who has seen a lot more of humanity in its varied humanness. In the end, The Black Book of Secrets is a thoughtful read for younger readers, that will make an older reader have something to ponder as well. Overall rating: Sep 24, Russell Sanderson rated it it was amazing.

I raced through this in a couple of days. An excellent middle grade fantasy, just dark enough to give it that gothic, Dickensian feel. I felt like I was reading a Terry Pratchett book with all the comedy removed. The characters who definitely have names Charles Dickens would be proud of came alive as the story went along, divulging their dark secrets to the mysterious Joe Zabbadou. Told from the perspective of young runaway urchin, Ludlow Fitch, the story keeps you turning the pages to find ou I raced through this in a couple of days.

Told from the perspective of young runaway urchin, Ludlow Fitch, the story keeps you turning the pages to find out what the enigmatic Mr Zabbadou is up to. I'll definitely read more in the Tales From the Sinister City series of which this is the first. Cracking read. View 2 comments. Nov 26, Reita rated it really liked it. I couldn't help feel that this is a story about Jesus. Joe tells Ludlow to be patient, it will work out. Things do work out, the bad guy gets his comeuppence and Joe moves on to another village to help other people.

That's what I felt when I read this book. The other reviews I read didn't mention this aspect. What do you think? This books was really odd.

People sold their secrets about burying people alive and poisoning their father and I find it wierd that they were so willing to tell such secrets for just a little bit of money. None of the characters interested me, and nothing exciting really happened.

This was a short book, but it took me forever to read it because it just wasn't holding my attention well enough. This is a pretty cool book which several reviews have called Dickensian. Not exactly being an expert on things Dickens, I'm not sure I can comment one way or the other - though I will say it has that bleak, cynical and sort of gothic atmosphere to it, which is what I think they're talking about.

The gist is that Ludlow Fitch escapes the horrors of his parents and the City, and stumbles across the path of Joe Zabbidou, he of the eponymous Black Book of Secrets. See, Joe is a pawnbroker, but while This is a pretty cool book which several reviews have called Dickensian. See, Joe is a pawnbroker, but while he does trade in the usual sort of junk, he is also a broke of secrets.

The book alternates between first person narrative of Ludlow's memiors, excerpts from said Black Book, and third person - which is, ostensibly, the author piecing together the "true story" from fragments she's collected.

Honestly, I think it could've worked either in all third person or, perhaps, first person except for the secrets bit though since the secrets are recorded as they're told, you could even just have that as extended dialogue. One of the faults of the book is that the characters aren't really developed or defined enough - and this includes the narrator. The voices don't change enough - the first person bits sounding rather similar to the third person bits - and breaking up the narrative in this fashion sort of serves to highlight the fact that the author doesn't have the felicity to pull it off.

I think the pseudo-Victorianism is wearing off on me. And now I've slipped into Dark Tower. I also wish that both Joe and Ludlow were developed more, that a lot of the mystery of Joe is based on the fact that he won't explain anything a device which routinely irritates me , and that Jeremiah - the villain of the piece - was a bit less ham-handed.

The lack of real character development is even more important because, well, not a lot really happens. This is very much a character book, in many ways, so it would be nice for them to have some meat on their literary bones. That said, it did have some interesting sort of commentary on humanity and society. As I said, it comes from a bleak and cynical place, but I can't really say anything strike me as particularly unlikely - just, as I said, a bit ham-fistedly handled.

And, overall, I did enjoy the story. It dragged a bit towards the middle, but as the story progressed I wanted to learn more about the town and the people and their secrets. It only sort of whet my appetite, though, and never really satiated it. But maybe that's for the good, as it's a series and there's more to come? I hope further installments improve in execution because, really, that's the thing that's mostly lacking, it seems.

Jan 13, Emily Dangler rated it it was ok. Higgins' books, The Bone Magician, and thought that it sounded like a great little read. However - although not part of a series - The Bone Magician apparently has a plot that occurs at the same time as the plot of The Black Book of Secrets, so I thought it might be better to read this one first.

I have to admit, I don't foresee myself making a special trip ou Honestly, the only reason I picked The Black Book of Secrets up in the first place was because I read the summary of another one of F. I have to admit, I don't foresee myself making a special trip out to get my hands on a copy of The Bone Magician any time soon, or any other books by F.

Higgins, for that matter. It isn't that the book was poorly written! Actually, I thought Higgins' writing was lovely and vivid; you could tell that she took very deliberate care of every detail that went into the story, and that was something that I did appreciate about the book, very much. I could imagine everything just perfectly, and she created a world that was almost tangible. However, The Black Book of Secrets felt like a collection of wonderful story tidbits that Higgins had collected over the years, and then she tried to make a book out of them.

So much love and nurturing went into the little things, yet the overall plot was sorely lacking. The concept revolves around a boy who begins to work for a man that is a Secret Pawnbroker - he downloads people's deepest, darkest secrets in exchange for money. The man does nothing with the secrets; he is simply a collector. And that is basically the story. Nothing really happens. The townspeople get angry at the man at one point because they think he will blackmail them, but then the story's antagonist dies accidentally, so they quickly forgive the man.

And that is more or less the end of the book. There is hardly any rising action or climax. The characters never change, or grow, or learn anything. Even the narrator - the young boy, who works for the Secret Pawnbroker - doesn't seem to mature from the beginning to the end of the book.

While I felt that there were some positive moments in The Black Book of Secrets namely the often unexpected and fun sensory details , I finished the book and thought, "Who cares? Why did any of this matter?

I, for one, felt very unsatisfied. Jan 11, Grace rated it it was ok. This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I wish I could give this two and a half stars, but I suppose I'll have to settle for three. On seconds thought I'm giving it two.

To be honest I was a bit surprised that this book got such big ratings from people on goodreads. I picked this up in a used book store and read the first couple pages. It's a good, very creep, beginning and very intriguing. But I admit that I probably wouldn't have bought it had been at full price. I really like the initial idea for the book.

A pawnbroker downloads peoples I wish I could give this two and a half stars, but I suppose I'll have to settle for three. A pawnbroker downloads peoples deepest, darkest secrets. But I don't think it was executed that well. I think it's a bad sign when you're reading a book and you can't help but keep thinking what a better job a really good author could have done with the idea.

I think it could have been better with a fantasy aspect to it. I think the idea might have worked better with magic: For example the book could have been magic, so that once the secrets were written down they couldn't be spoken of again honestly, I suspected this for a little while, but it isn't I don't see why anyone would feel more secure with their secrets written down in a book in the possession of a stranger.

I, for one, would feel much more ill at ease knowing that they were so accessible to anyone who might get their hands on that book, after all it says on the cover of that very same book that "What is spoken flies, what is written never dies. Looking back I can't really describe what the characters were like. I felt, especially, that the relationship between Ludlow and Joe should have been built on much, much more. Joe wasn't very well rounded either and I know he was probably meant to be mysterious and interesting I think it could have been done better.

Also, I was a bit perplexed by the ending. It was not was I expected at all and I think it could have ended about ten pages earlier and I would have been fine with it.

His age was impossible to determine. He was neither stout nor thin, but perhaps narrow. And he was tall, which was a distinct disadvantage in Pagus Parvus. The village dated from times when people were at least six inches shorter and all dwellings were built accordingly. The king at the time issued a decree that every effort must be made to save wood, with the result that doors and windows were made smaller and narrower than was usual and ceilings were particularly low.

Joe was suitably dressed for the weather, though unheedful of the current fashion for the high-collared coat. Instead he wore a cloak of muted green, fastened with silver toggles, that fell to his ankles. The cloak itself was of the finest Jocastar wool.

The Jocastar — an animal akin to a sheep but with longer, more delicate legs and finer features — lived high up in the mountains of the northern hemisphere. Once a year, September time, it moulted and only the most agile climbers dared venture up into the thin air to collect its wool. The cloak was lined with the softest fur in existence, chinchilla.

On his feet Joe wore a pair of black leather boots, highly polished, upon which sat the beautifully pressed cuffs of his mauve trousers. Around his neck was wrapped a silk scarf, and a fur hat shaped like a cooking pot was pulled down tightly over his ears. It could not fully contain his hair and more than a few silver strands curled out from underneath. With every step Joe took, a set of keys hooked to his belt jingled tunefully against his thigh.

In his right hand he carried a rather battered leather satchel straining at the seams, and in his left a damp drawstring bag from which there emanated an intermittent croaking. Quickly, silently, Joe climbed the steep high street until he reached the last building on the left.

It was an empty shop.

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Beyond it was a walled graveyard, the village boundary, within which stood the church. Then the road stretched away into a grey nothingness. Snow had drifted into the shop doorway and gathered in the corners of the flyblown windows. The paintwork was peeling and an old sign in the shape of a hat creaked above the door in the biting wind. Joe took a moment to survey the street down to the bottom of the hill.

It was the early hours of the morning but yellow oil lamps and candles glowed behind many a curtain and shutter and more than once he saw the silhouette of a person cross back and forth in front of a window. A smile broke across his face. The shop itself was quite tiny. The distance between the display window and the counter was no more than three paces.

Joe went behind the counter and opened the solid door that led into a back room. A tiny window on the far wall allowed the dusty moon-glow to lighten the gloom. The furniture was sparse and worn: two ladderback chairs and a table, a small stove and a narrow bed pushed up against the wall. In contrast the fireplace was huge. At least six feet across and nearly three deep, it took up almost the whole of one wall. On either side of the hearth sat a faded upholstered armchair.

It was not much but it would do. In the depths of the night, Joe busied himself settling in. He turned up the wick and lit the lamp on the table.

He unwound his scarf, took off his hat and unfastened his cloak and put them on the bed. Then he opened his satchel and, as a silent observer peered through the window, Joe emptied it out on to the table. The onlooker never moved, though his already huge dark eyes widened impossibly as Joe pulled out clothes, shoes, a collection of trinkets and baubles, some rather fine jewellery, two loaves, a bottle of stout, another bottle, dark-glassed and unlabelled, four timepieces with gold chains , a brass hurricane lamp, a rectangular glass tank with a vented lid, a large black book, a quill and bottle of ink and a polished mahogany wooden leg.

The satchel was deceptively spacious. Deftly Joe fixed the tank together, then took his drawstring bag and loosened the tie. He set it down gently on the table and a second later a frog, a rather spectacular specimen of mixed hue and intelligent expression, emerged daintily from its folds.

Very carefully Joe picked it up and placed it inside the tank, whereupon the creature blinked lazily and munched thoughtfully on some dried insects. As Joe dropped another bug into the tank he stiffened almost imperceptibly. Without a backwards glance he left the room, the eyes at the window still following him curiously. No human ear heard him tiptoe around the back of the shop, where he pounced upon the figure at the window and held him up to the light by the scruff of his scrawny neck.

Joe had the boy in such a grip that he was half choking on his collar and his feet were barely touching the ground. He tried to speak, but fear and shock had rendered him unable. He could only open and close his mouth like a fish out of water. Joe gave him a shake and repeated the question, though less harshly this time. When he still received no answer he let the young lad fall to the snow in a crumpled pathetic heap. He truly was a pale and sorry figure, undersized, undernourished and shivering so hard you could almost hear his bones rattle.

His eyes were striking though, dark green with flecks of yellow, and set in a ring of shadow. His skin matched the snow in tone and temperature. Joe sighed and pulled him to his feet. A blackened kettle hung over the flames and every so often Joe stirred its contents.

The boy gulped his noisily in spilling, overfull spoonfuls. And do you wish to go back? In my experience the City is a rotten, diseased place full of the very worst of humanity. The lowest of the low. Without hesitation he put the stained cloth in his mouth and sucked out the juices.

Joe watched unsmiling but with amusement in his eyes. The warming soup had brought life back to his frozen limbs.

Can you write and read? If Joe was surprised he did not show it. Ludlow thought for a moment then wrote slowly, in his plain, spidery hand, the tip of his tongue sticking out of the corner of his mouth: A Pome The rabit dose be a gentel creture Its furr is soft, its tale is wite Under the sun a gras eater In a burro it doth sleep the nighte. Joe stroked his chin to conceal his smile.

Your parents? I was taught by Mr Lembart Jellico, a pawnbroker in the City. He resembled so many City boys, dirty and skinny. He certainly smelt like one. His clothes were barely functional apart from the scarf and gloves which were of a much higher quality and he had a distrustful face that gave away the wretchedness of his past existence.

He was bruised and his mouth was very swollen, but there was a spark of intelligence — and something else — in those dark eyes. Now it is time to sleep. He had never felt such soft fur before and it wrapped itself around his legs almost of its own accord.

Ludlow watched through half-closed eyes as Joe stretched out on the bed opposite, his legs not quite fully extended, and began to snore. When he was certain that Joe was asleep Ludlow pulled out the purse he had stolen from the carriage and hid it behind a loose brick in the wall.

Then he took the paper and read it once again. What sort of job is that? But he did not ponder the question for very long before drifting off into a sleep full of wild dreams that made his heart race. As for pawnbrokers, naturally I knew what they were. Whatever Ma and Pa managed to steal and had no use for, they pawned. Or they sent me to do it. There were plenty of pawnshops, practically one on every corner, and they were open all hours.

They were busiest after the weekend, when everyone had spent their wages on drink or lost them at the card table. By mid-morning on Mondays a pawnshop window was quite a sight, believe me. Take it or leave it. Of course, you could always download back what you pledged, but you had to pay more.

For a start he was hidden away down a narrow alley off Pledge Street. You would only know he was there if you knew he was there, if you see what I mean. I found him because I was looking for somewhere to hide from Ma and Pa.

The entrance to the lane was so narrow I had to go in sideways. When I looked up I could see only a thin sliver of the smoky city sky. He looked as if he was in a daydream. I coughed. Those were the first kind words I had heard all day. Mr Jellico looked as poor as his customers. His skin was white, starved of the sun, and had a slight shine to it, like wet pastry. His long fingernails were usually black and his lined face was covered in grey stubble.

There was always a drip at the end of his nose and occasionally he wiped it away with a red handkerchief that he kept in his waistcoat pocket. That day he gave me a shilling for the ring, so I came back the next day with more spoils and received another. After that I returned as often as I could. His shop was rarely busy, the window was dirty and there was never much on display. Once I saw a loaf of bread on the shelf. I told him what Ma and Pa were like, how they treated me, how little they cared for me.

Many times when it was too cold to stay out, and I was too afraid to return home, he let me warm myself by his fire and gave me tea and bread. He taught me the AlphaBet and numbers and let me practise writing on the back of old pawn tickets. He showed me books and made me copy out page after page until he was satisfied with my handwriting. It has been remarked that my style is a little formal. I blame this on the texts from which I learned. Their authors were of a serious nature, writing of wars and history and great thinkers.

There was little room for humour. In return for this learning I carried out certain chores for Mr Jellico. At first I wrote out the price tags for the window, but as my writing improved he let me log the pledges and monies in his record book. Occasionally the door would open and we would have a customer. Mr Jellico enjoyed talking and would detain them in conversation for quite some time before taking their pledge and paying them.

I spent many hours in the back of the shop engaged in my tasks and Ma and Pa never knew. I saw no reason to tell them about Mr Jellico; they would only have demanded that I steal something from him. I had the opportunity, many times, but although I would not hesitate to cheat my parents out of a few shillings, I could not betray Mr Jellico. The first time I found the shop closed I thought he must have packed up and left. Then a few days later he came back. I was just glad to see him. This went on for almost five months until the night I fled the City.

There was little chance I would see him again. So, when Joe said that he was a pawnbroker I was pleased. I thought I knew what to expect. It was a small village clinging for its life to the side of a steep mountain in a country that has changed its name over and over and in a time that is a distant memory for most.

It comprised one cobbled high street lined on either side with a mixture of houses and shops built in the style that was popular around the time of the great fire in the famous city of London. The first and second floors and in the case of the home of wealthy Jeremiah Ratchet, the third and fourth floors overhung the pavement.

In fact, sometimes the upper levels stuck so far out that they restricted the sunlight. The windows themselves were small with leaded panes, and dark timbers ran in parallel lines on the outside walls. The buildings were all at strange and rather worrying angles, each having slid slightly down the hill over the years and sunk a little into the earth.

There was no doubt that if just one collapsed it would take all the others with it. The village was overlooked by the church, an ancient building mostly frequented these days when someone was born or died.

Entry into this life and exit from it were deemed noteworthy occasions, but for most villagers the intervening existence did not require regular church attendance. On the whole this suited the Reverend Stirling Oliphaunt very well. Besides, the hill really was unusually steep. Even before the sun had fully risen behind the clouds, a rumour was circulating that the old hat shop had a new occupant. One by one the villagers puffed and panted their way up the hill to see for themselves.

The murky windows were now clean and transparent, although the varying thickness of the glass distorted the display somewhat, and the people pressed their faces up against the panes eager to see what was on show.

A reasonable question under the circumstances, for the contents of the satchel, excepting the food and drink, had been priced with tags and placed in the window. The wooden leg was propped in the corner but there was no indication of its cost. In the daylight it was quite remarkable in appearance: its glistening skin was a patchwork of vibrant reds, greens and yellows. It was most unlike any frog that lived in the soupy ponds of Pagus Parvus. Its feet were not webbed, instead they were more like longfingered hands with knobbly joints and toes, which would have made swimming quite tricky.

He was holding a sign which he placed carefully at the bottom of the display. Joe then emerged with a ladder which he propped against the wall over the door. He climbed confidently to the top and unhooked the old hat-shaped sign. He fixed to the pole the universal symbol of the pawnbroker: three polished golden orbs stuck together in the shape of a triangle. They swung on their chain in a lazy arc, glinting in the low winter sun. Joe smiled benevolently, descended the ladder with remarkable speed and stood before the crowd.

I stand under the sign of the three golden orbs because I am a pawnbroker, a respectable profession in existence for centuries, of Italian origin, I believe. Joe disregarded this interruption and continued smoothly. You will not be cheated by Joe Zabbidou. Joe took a bow and smiled at his audience. He sat up to find that the fire had been revived and one of the logs was spitting, sending burning sparks on to his cheeks. Joe was nowhere to be seen, but there was bread and milk on the table, and a jug of beer, and Ludlow realized that he was very hungry.

He drank some frothy milk and ate a thick slice of warm bread. He sat back, satisfied, but not for long. Hearing the commotion outside he went to the door to have a look. Joe was still shaking hands with the villagers. When he saw Ludlow he nodded in the direction of the crowd, who were milling around, loath to leave this object of curiosity. Few strangers ever came to their village.

There was that hook nose again and again, those close-set narrow eyes, the crooked smiles, each in a different combination on a different countenance. This place could do with some new blood, he thought. He had woken with a pounding headache and a raw stomach.

Besides, he despised the other drinkers, most of whom were in his debt. Jeremiah was happy to take their money but he preferred not to drink with them. And the feeling was mutual. There he drank wine and beer, smoked fat cigars and played cards until the early hours with a motley bunch of fellows: thieves and gamblers, resurrectionists and undoubtedly a murderer or two.

Although he would never admit it, he felt quite at home in the Nimble Finger. Jeremiah groaned again when he remembered he had lost a considerable sum of money at the card table. Jeremiah liked simple solutions to problems, and rent increases seemed to solve most of his.

He did not care about the trouble this caused his tenants. He turned over in bed, but his attempts to sleep again were thwarted by the foul air that wafted up from under the blankets.

Too many onions, he thought as he flung back the curtain and swung his legs over the side. He squinted in the daylight and only then became aware of the noise out on the street.

He stumbled and belched his way over to the window to see crowds of people making their way up the hill. He felt it was a physical measure of his importance. Although he loved to indulge himself in all sorts of extravagances, it galled him to think that others might too. He shoved his hands deep in his pockets and pulled his collar around his neck.

His mood had not improved when Polly reported that she had failed to find his gloves, scarf and purse. Deserves to be whipped. He took whichever hand they offered and enclosed it in his own. At the same time he leaned forward and said something. Whatever it was, it made the women smile and the men straighten up and inflate their chests.

While Joe was still busy shaking hands, a minor commotion started up at the back of the crowd. I stuck my head out a little further and saw a bulbous man, his face glistening with sweat, pushing his way to the front.

The Little Black Book of Investment Secrets

The people parted reluctantly to allow his passage. He stood in the snow in a manner that suggested he was supported solely by his own selfimportance. He cocked his large head to one side to squint at the golden orbs with a yellowing eye. There was something very unpleasant about the man: his bulk was offensive, his stance was aggressive.

I was not inclined to make myself known to him so I stayed where I was. I suspect Joe had already noticed him but had chosen to ignore him.

Eventually, after the man had positioned himself only a matter of feet away and coughed loudly three times, Joe acknowledged his presence and introduced himself. The man stared at Joe as if he was a snail on his shoe. Local businessman. I own most of this village. So this was Jeremiah Ratchet, the man who had inadvertently brought me to Pagus Parvus and at the same time brought about a change in my fortunes. His rather grand statement was greeted with quiet snorts of derision from the crowd, even a hiss, and his wide forehead creased in an angry frown.

He put his hands on his hips and sniffed, in the manner of a rooting hog. If I had been in that crowd, I would have pinched his purse before he could blink. He was the sort of man who deserved to have his pocket picked. Then again, I thought, as I tried to conceal a smirk, I already had it. Everything about Jeremiah smelled of money: from his perfumed hair, to his dark woollen three-quarter length coat; from his mustard breeches, right down to the shiny leather of his riding boots.

Unfortunately nothing about him smelled of good taste. These people own nothing of any worth. I help people round here. If they need money they know whom to ask. Only one person lingered, a young girl. She looked cold and tired. Her knuckles were red, she wore no gloves and her fingertips were blue. I felt a little sorry for her, with her stick legs and red nose. Joe was leaning casually on the ladder, watching us, but suddenly he looked away.

I followed his gaze and saw for a second time the small hunched figure with a shovel on his shoulder. He had been right at the back during the whole show, his craggy face expressionless.

Now he was going in the opposite direction to everyone else, towards the church. Joe watched him go through the gates, then beckoned to me. I pulled the door to and a little thrill of excitement made me shiver all over.

Chapter Nine Obadiah Strang An ancient graveyard surrounded the church and the slope was such that it was impossible to dig a grave without one side being higher than the other. Fortunately for its occupants, Obadiah Strang, the gravedigger, was very good at his job and took great pains to ensure that the base of each grave was level, so the poor dead soul in the coffin could achieve peace on his back and not on his side.

Whenever there was a funeral the mourners were constantly on the move, shifting from one foot to the other as they tried to stand up straight. Only mountain goats that wandered in from time to time seemed at ease, able as they were to keep their balance at any angle. The graveyard must have seemed like a home from home. Not only that, the grass was particularly rich. Joe stepped through the rusting church gates, closely followed by Ludlow, and stopped to listen.

The rhythmic sound of shovelling came to him on the wind and when he looked down the slope between the headstones he saw Obadiah Strang hard at work digging a grave. Stooped even as a youngster, Obadiah had finally reached the age that his bent back had always suggested. He looked like a man who dug holes for a living and over the years his hands had fixed themselves into the shape of the handle of his shovel. He had great difficulty picking up small objects but was thankful that his clawed fingers could comfortably hold a bottle of ale.

Obadiah continued with his task for quite some time before he noticed that he had company. He clambered out with the aid of a small ladder and stuck his shovel into the pile of earth with some force. Sweat congealed in his eyebrows and he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand, leaving a dark smear.

It was not easy to dig a six-foot-deep hole in the winter. Joe greeted him with a warm handshake.

Ludlow smiled and put out his hand, albeit hesitantly. Obadiah ignored it. You pay an assistant?I paid what I could and tried to reason with him but Jeremiah Ratchet must have a hole where his heart should be. Joe smiled benevolently, descended the ladder with remarkable speed and stood before the crowd.

He might have brought me to the village, but that was more by luck than design. Ratchet is delivered to his opulent house in the mountain village of Pagus Parvus, Ludlow nicks the man's purse, scarf and gloves. As he melted into the night another figure appeared. Joe was nowhere to be seen, but there was bread and milk on the table, and a jug of beer, and Ludlow realized that he was very hungry.

How long will that satisfy him? He also consults as an expert in global currency strategy, and has run equity and William received a Masters in Economics economic research groups for a leading from Johns Hopkins University, including independent research company.