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John Diamond
by Leon Garfield


Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1980, 2001
$18.00 hardcover
178 pages


Dust jacket illustration by Bret Helquist; used with permission of FSG. A pocket watch with a secret . . . .
A hidden treasure worth ten thousand pounds . . . .
A family fortune earned by another man's ruin . . . .

It's this third item that starts 12-year-old William on his adventure in 18th century London. He wants to apologize to Alfred Diamond, the man his father cheated twenty years earlier. Mr. Diamond is dead now, but the lawyer's clerk knows his son John, and if William can come to a certain pub at eight something might be arranged.

There is far more to this affair than William ever guessed. Suddenly everyone wants to know about a treasure of ten thousand pounds. Suddenly a gang of street urchins seems out for William's blood. John Diamond proves frustratingly elusive and when William finally does catch up with him there is this unpleasant realization: John Diamond wants no apology from William. He wants revenge..

John Diamond is a satisfying bit of historical skullduggery. Leon Garfield's novel has as many twists as the fog-shrouded London of William's adventure, but he blithely turns any further expectation for plot conventions on their collective ear. After a slowish beginning it is William's obsession with his father's guilt that drives the story, and his naivete often disguises the danger of his circumstances. Ironic symmetries of plot abound. There are not mistaken identities so much as no one fitting into the roles in which William's imagination has cast them. All is resolved by the end, if not necessarily to the satisfaction of the characters; and yet more than one person is better off because of William's misguided adventure. Throughout the book runs a dry, subtle humor: sometimes cynical commentary, sometimes low key word play, and sometimes outright farce.

John Diamond was first published in the United States in 1980 with
the title Footsteps. Leon Garfield died in 1996.

Dust jacket illustration by Bret Helquist; used with permission of FSG.

Reviewed by Wendy Morris. © 2001 by Wendy Morris

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