Suzy's Reviews > Octopus

Octopus by Michael   Gallagher
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Mar 01, 2016

it was amazing

I received this book in return for my honest review, and I have to say that I absolutely loved it!

I really enjoyed the first book Gooseberry, that introduced us to young Octavius Guy, former pickpocket on the streets of 19th century London, now Chief-Investigator for a reputable solicitor, but this sequel was even better!!

Octavius, also known as Gooseberry for his bulging eyes, or Octopus (by the criminal set) due to his skills as a pickpocket, finds himself thrust into the investigation of an unusual murder that happens in front of an audience of rapt theatre-goers. When Octavius attends a play with his employer and some of his clients, he realizes that the lead actress is someone he knows, a confidence trickster from years ago. She had helped Gooseberry with his baby brother, after his mother's death, and he was thrilled to see that she had found a way, like him, out of "the Life" and had a new name and a successful career. He saw the fear in her eyes when they were introduced prior to the play, but she had nothing to fear from Gooseberry, who was happy for her, and would never reveal her criminal past, playing along as if they were meeting for the first time. During the play, however, there is a scene in which the actress, Miss Prynn, is strangled by Monks wearing costumes that hide their faces. She is supposed to rise from the dead to speak a few more lines, but instead the actress lies still. A co-actor screams for a doctor, and one rushes up to the stage and after examining her announces that she is, in fact, dead! This sets into motion a thrilling investigation with all kinds of twists and turns, as Gooseberry is determined to get to the bottom of what happened and who is responsible!

In addition to his investigating, Gooseberry also has the burden of now being head of the criminal underworld by the odd rules employed in that world and uses this to his advantage as much as possible in his investigating. The additional burden of such demands, however, prove difficult to manage and he realizes that he has to find some solutions for this double life he's living, which he manages to do in spectacular fashion to the benefit of many. While at first glance, a 14 year old sleuth and leader of street crime in London's underworld might seem far-fetched by today's perspective, but the children growing up on the streets of Victorian London had to grow up quickly and learn to be tough just to survive. They were hardened by life at such a young age that they really weren't children, especially by the time they were Gooseberry's age. The instinct to read people and find ways to get what they needed were often required to survive on the streets, where the weak were easily picked off and taken advantage of. Gooseberry is young, but he is very smart, intuitive and tough when he needs to be, as the choices he makes at the end of the book with regards to justice and the death sentence clearly show.

Octavius is such an interesting character, and the book is set in such a fascinating time in London's history. I enjoyed learning more about the less respectable London and the people who lived there, and the slang was fun! I loved that some of it was simply the word spelled and pronounced backwards! Gooseberry has a foot in both worlds, which gives the reader an very interesting perspective on how the social classes worked at the time and how viewed one another. For those scraping by on the streets, like Gooseberry had, it was such a dangerous and difficult time of living hungry and being desperate. This was especially true for women and young children, who often had to make money in any way they could just to eat. Gooseberry doesn't judge them harshly for this because he recognizes that there is little choice when you are poor and hungry with no other resources. I liked that the book showed that in spite of their poor circumstances, these people found small pleasures in their lives and cared for one another when they could. The upper classes simply did not want to see or associate with those of such criminal background, if they thought of them at all beyond turning their nose up at them. Gooseberry was fortunate that his employer was able to see that he had something to offer despite a criminal past, which was why it was so crucial to Gooseberry that his kept his current activities with the underworld hidden.

I think bringing Octavius and Julius's father into the story helped to illustrate, even more, what it must have been like for many children of the time who were born to single mothers, many of whom had to sell themselves to feed their children. His appearance in their small flat shows the reader how incredibly poor they were, even with all three of them - Gooseberry, Julius and Bertha - working from morning till night. They had no beds to sleep on, and simply had to find room on the floor to lay out a bedroll. When Gooseberry's brother wants to bring a stray dog inside to keep as a pet, it's a difficult decision because there is so little room and so little food to go around, but Gooseberry realizes that Julius needs a friend and allows it. His father's appearance also prompts him to find out more about his own background and he comes to see that family doesn't have to be about blood, but rather can be a family you create for yourself of those you care about and who care. A lot of difficult and emotional topics are explored alongside the murder mystery, and I found myself reflecting on how lucky we are to have the social services we have today, and how hopeless life must have felt for so many during Gooseberry's time. I think the book gives us a deeper understanding of many of the characters and their motivations. Some, like Octavius, strive to rise above the criminal life, and if presented, take the opportunity to try to make something of themselves in the respectable world. But their past activities and associations are always there in the background, waiting to drag them back down.

A good mystery that kept me guessing. I wasn't sure who and why until the very end! A good read and highly recommended!
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Reading Progress

March 1, 2016 – Started Reading
March 1, 2016 – Shelved
March 3, 2016 – Finished Reading

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