Though I’m not a huge fan of sequels, I do admit that they can serve a purpose if done correctly. If someone has created a vibrant character that people love and want to know more about, obviously they will want to know what happens to him or her long after a movie or book is done. Unfortunately, most sequels are created just for monetary purposes and not to satisfy an audience’s curiosity.
But, occasionally, there is a work that revisits a well-loved character and fills us in on what he or she is doing now. Louis Bayard’s Mr. Timothy does admirably. Bayard’s book catches up with one of the most beloved characters in fiction – Timothy Cratchit, aka “Tiny Tim,” from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Tim, we are told from the start, is no longer so tiny and is, in most ways, a healthy twenty-something man (he still walks with a limp, however).
The adult Tim lives in a brothel where he poses as the madam’s bookkeeper and is, in fact, teaching her how to read. Tim, the narrator, explains that he took the job partly because he was tired of relying on the generosity of a certain rich uncle (who all Dickens fans will recognize long before he is mentioned by name). He’s happy enough, but suddenly starts stumbling upon the bodies of dead girls. When he finds one terrified living girl who seems moments away from meeting the fates of her departed peers, Tim becomes an amateur detective, an unlikely hero, hoping to save her.
The story is gripping and thrilling, but Bayard’s real genius is in creating the kind of characters and settings Dickens might have come up with were he writing today. The language and some of the situations are more explicit than the original work, but Bayard chooses equally colorful people to populate his work. My favorite was Tim’s pal, Captain Gully, a seaman who trawls the waters looking for dead bodies which he then robs. Another of the book’s key players is an adolescent boy dubbing himself Colin the Melodious, who attaches himself to Tim like a barnacle. See? Isn’t this fun?
But Mr. Timothy isn’t mere homage. Bayard creates a truly absorbing satisfying suspense tale with a truly moving finale. With such mastery on display, even Tim’s rich uncle would have a hard time saying “Bah, humbug” to this.