Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March Secret Agent #27

TITLE: The Detective's Apprentice
GENRE: YA Historical Mystery

The first thing I noticed about Charlie Becket, the famous London detective, was his eyes. In the street, most people don’t let you see their eyes. The lawyers walking to Chancery, the clerks popping around to the pub for lunch, even the factory workers, their faces smudged with soot—they all walk with their heads down, trying not to see the suffering all around them. The beggars and the orphans, we’re the ones looking up, trying to get someone—anyone—to see us, to take pity on us, to give us a couple coins. Most people just ignore us.

But not Becket.

Pete and I had been begging by the Thames, trying to scrape together a few pence for some dinner, and having rotten luck. The day was ending, the shops closing, and no one had time for two cold, hungry orphans. But then I spotted Becket coming around the corner, his head held high and his eyes darting this way and that—seeing everything, missing nothing.

“Look,” I said to Pete, and pointed. “What about him?”

“You want me to lift his wallet, Daisy?” Pete asked.

I scoffed. “Are you dense? Do you want to get pinched?” Pete was my best friend—my only friend, come to that—but we often disagreed about how to survive in the streets. I liked to smile, curtsy, and charm people out of their money. He favored a more forceful approach.

I shook my head. “No, that man right there—that’s a man who could see his way to feeling generous.”


  1. The idea of two orphans hooking up with a detective is attractive on its face so it would definitely get my interest. Set in a historic time - I am assuming Victorian - and I would read a few pages to see where it went. I liked the set-up and the scene-setting from Daisy's POV. I caution that the language would have to read very faithfully to the era and to UK English to pull this off. So, you will always have to be aware of sounding too modern. I don't think you have too many problems with that here although I did stumble over the word "dense" as in "Are you dense." That did sound modern to my ears. I was thiking "are you daft?" would be safer. I also worry about the age of Daisy and Pete, since in the era I imagine it to be, boys and girls of 12 and up, certainly 14 and up, would not really be considered orphans or lost children anymore - they would almost be the modern equivalent of an 18 year old in that they would be expected to apprentice and make their own way by this age. However, the premise intrigues me and I would read on.

  2. I love this concept and I enjoyed the excerpt. I, too, was thrown by 'dense' and would caution you to watch every word. The narrator's voice is educated and perhaps older, so I'm thinking this is a 'looking back' kind of opening.

  3. I really enjoyed this submit - and I'm not usually one for Historical reads.

    I love how you've visually set this up for the reader and can picture these two orphans on the street, doing whatever possible to scrounge up some change. The idea of throwing them together with a detective, is definitely enough to make me want to turn the page and read on.

    As the other two comments have mentioned, just make sure you're watching your language to make sure it fits with the time - otherwise, I think you have a great 250 word submit here.

    Best of luck!

  4. I was sold on the first paragraph. You did a great job of combining scene setting and characterization.

    Maintaining a historically-accurate voice is hard. Except for that one word, "dense," I thought this excerpt was pretty good.

    I will note, for whatever it's worth, that Daisy and Pete came across as young to me -- probably under 10. I think that's the association I have with the word "orphan." If they are supposed to be older, you might give some thought to changing their professions, as Happy Dolphin mentioned.

  5. FWIW, a quick search of the etymology of "dense" shows its first recorded use to mean "stupid" at 1822. It probably entered the vernacular before it appeared in writing so assuming this is set in the mid-19th century you're safe.

  6. I really enjoyed reading this, and I think your style is vivid and crisp. Daisy's observation about the eyes is wise -- the kind of observation that makes me trust her (and you) as a narrator.

    I liked several of your phrases, especially "my only friend--come to that," which gave the piece a historical feel without throwing me out of the flow of the narrative. Hope to read more!

  7. Excellent context, excellent language, excellent dialogue.

    The only nit I have is Pete saying Daisy's name because it sounds unnatural. I understand you want to show that your MC is a girl, but is there a different way you could do this?
    Great job on this and good luck!

  8. Very enjoyable and intriguing concept. You have a few run on sentences that you might want to break up. The third paragraph in particular is made up of three very long and fairly complex statements. If you vary it up more with sentences of shorter length, it will read a little easier.

    Interestingly, I disagree about there being a problem with Peter saying Daisy's name. I am married to an englishman and there's something about the line that does capture the cadence of lower class british speech.

  9. The premise pulled me right in. I would want to read more and the possibilities are endless - even for a series of books. I stumbled like many over the word "dense." It sounded modern and American. I have heard the British use the word "thick" a lot to mean stupid or the same thing as dense. There was a slight logic problem about the focus on seeing people's eyes. If people look down then the orphans - who are small and sitting on the street are presumable in their eyeline even with downcast eyes. I agree with Dolphin about the age of the chracters being a 12 they would have been chimney sweeps or scullery maids etc or they would have just been part of the human detritus that filled the streets in that era. So, if they are YA age (presumably 14 and up) they would not have been "children" in the modern sense. Otherwise, really great start. Good luck.

  10. I'm hooked! I like historicals especially if the voice feels authentic. I'm also a fan of Dickens, and especially of Bleak House, so the Chancery shout-out caught my attention.

    I think the voice here really works, and I'd read more.

  11. This was my favorite entry. I like Daisy and would follow her through hundreds of pages. The word dense didn't bother me one bit. I would love to see where this story goes.

  12. This reads smooth, and I sailed through it without a hitch. I didn't get stumped on any language, but the other comments are a great reminder to watch every word and phrase in historical. It's helpful if you can find any books written from the era to get a feel for the dialogue and expressions of the day.