This very original novel is clever but also a difficult read. The story is presented through a series of transcripts of audio recordings made by “Little Smithy,” a semi-literate old school London gang member. The recordings describe his quest to find out what happened to his old high school Remedial English teacher after she disappeared during a field trip. The transcripts are phonetic and the imprecise patois is often transcribed inaccurately, e.g. “must have” becomes “mustard” and so on. There are numerous typographic symbols representing pauses, breath sounds, etc. The story is chopped up piecemeal. That’s much of what makes it a hard read.
What makes it a fun read is that there is a mystery to solve, several in fact, with elaborate clues set forth in various ways. Purportedly Edith Twyford, a British children’s author, left coded clues in the text and illustrations in her WWII-era books. It was one of her books Smithy had once found and given to his teacher that had led to the field trip where she disappeared. What were those coded clues for? Was Twyford a Nazi collaborator? A British spy working undercover? There are numerous references to the real-life Operation Fish where the UK transported is gold bullion Canada for safekeeping during the war. What happened to Miss Isles, the teacher? At the same time, the recordings described Smithy’s early life in a London gang and a big theft of gold and jewels that remains unsolved to this day. But there are inconsistencies throughout the transcripts. The ending is fanciful, but satisfying, as it does resolve what needs to be resolved.