In Louis Bayard’s debut novel Mr. Timothy, “Tiny Tim” Cratchit—the crippled child who warmed old Scrooge’s heart in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843)—has grown into a young man of twenty-three. Despondent since his father’s death, Timothy lives in a brothel and teaches the madam to read and write in exchange for room and board. At night Timothy and his friend “Captain” Gully drag the Thames River hoping to find suicides still bearing coins or jewelry. In spite of these dubious efforts to earn a living, Timothy relies on a monthly stipend from his “Uncle N,” Ebenezer Scrooge (whose home is always decorated for Christmas).
Wandering the London streets, Timothy stumbles upon the bodies of two little girls with the letter “G” branded on their arms. Haunted by their deaths, he befriends Philomela, an orphan who bears the same brand but cannot or will not explain it. Timothy, Gully and Colin the Melodious (a young street singer reminiscent of Dickens’ Artful Dodger) become Philomela’s protectors; when she is kidnapped the trio risk their lives to save her.
Timothy’s loyalty and kindness are heartwarming and his friends, particularly Colin the Melodious, provide comic relief. Dickens fans will enjoy Timothy’s poignant letters to the late Bob Cratchit, which reveal what happened to the Cratchits after Scrooge became their benefactor and offer a few surprises about Tiny Tim’s childhood. However, Bayard’s London is almost overwhelmingly grimy, dank, and squalid, and his story ultimately lacks the fond humor of Dickens’s tales.