J. Robert Whittle,
Lizzie's Secret Angels
(Whitlands, 2000)

Welcome back to the world of Lizzie Short. The time is 1805; the place, the London dockyards, where the people are beginning to take note of the rapid growth of the TLS Co., though they are still, for the most part, unaware that the company's true leader is young Lizzie.

Returning home from a successful raid on a Spanish village that netted her company several ships and much booty, young "entrepreneur" Lizzie finds more than enough to keep her busy at home. First, there is the matter of the "orphanage" where several young children (the "secret angels" of the title) are being maltreated. In typical Lizzie style, she manages to save the children with the help of her gypsy friends.

Then, there's the wicked Bishop of London, who proves to be more of a pirate even than young Lizzie. He has recognized that he has competition down on the dockyards and is desperately trying to find out who it might be, but so far Lizzie has managed to stay one step ahead of him. But will she be able to elude his spies for long?

And, of course, Lizzie's friends Mick and Ada have to be married and Lizzie must expend a great deal of time and energy planning their wedding for them. How will she manage to get them married without the aid of the clergy she mistrusts?

Lizzie's Secret Angels, the second installment in Whittle's Lizzie series, picks up where Lethal Innocence, the first book, left off. It is definitely not a stand-alone novel, but an excellent sequel. All the characters from the first novel return and there are new additions to the large cast, one of which is quite puzzling. At one point, an actress sweeps onto the stage (as actresses are wont to do), buys or gives Lizzie a complete new outfit, from boots to ribbons, then departs with no explanation for her generosity. The only explanation I can come up with is that she is there merely to emphasize, by dressing the girl in woman's clothing, rather than the girlish tatters she has been wearing, that Lizzie is older than we originally thought (something which comes out in the latter half of the book).

Some adults will undoubtedly find the book extremely cloying. Every character, no matter how rough, has a heart of gold -- with the exception, of course, of the Bishop. Everyone loves children. All the characters are easily overcome by emotion (especially the women, who break out in tears on a regular basis). Even the evil Bishop is overcome by emotion -- though not in the way some might expect.

As with his first book, Whittle has crafted a fine portrait of life in early 19th-century London. The story is told in straightforward, easy-to-read (though very schmaltzy) language. Although adults will need to suspend their disbelief from the top of Big Ben at some of Lizzie's actions, her adventures will definitely appeal to younger readers.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]
Rambles: 10 November 2001

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