“Uproarious… racy humor, rich atmosphere, and vivid characterization.” – BookLife Reviews
“a beautifully written novel… a deep, poignant book with a moving storyline and complex characters. It was a wonderful read!” – The Historical Fiction Company
William Dempsey was a wonder among wonders.
By 18, he had risen from a gang of London street rogues to be the personal plaything of the Marquess of Argyll. Maintained in splendour, celebrated at masquerades – with everything he could wish for.
Now all has come crashing down. He is put out in the rain without patronage, his West End apartment, or a place among the ton.
So on a stormy night, he arrives at a house in Southwark. Marathon Moll’s in the Mint – the bawdyhouse he worked in during his ascent and where he earned the name Blue Billy.
But is Marathon Moll’s a place from which to rise again? For there is one in the crowd, who catches his eye. Who takes his hand and promises something better.
Or does Moll’s signify a return to his roots? For one day, a second and very different young man raps on the door. Takes his hand and asks him to return to his past.
To the cat language of vagabonds. The canting dialect of thieves.
To the schemes, and the dreams, of his youth.
Book Buy Link: https://geni.us/bluebillysroguelexicon
A native of the American Southwest, David has spent much of his life living and traveling in Great Britain, France, and Finland.
He now lives in the American Northwest – Helena, Montana – with his Finnish partner.
By day he loves hiking under the Big Sky of his adopted state.
By night, however, he prefers editing lost manuscripts and wandering the byways of 18th century London…
Blue Billy’s Rogue Lexicon is a beautifully written novel with an inevitable, yet unpredictable, ending. In my opinion, the ending was the strongest part of the story since it truly felt as if the author had taken the reader full circle.
Blue Billy has lived an impoverished life on the streets of London. Out of desperation, Billy’s mother left him on the steps of a bawdyhouse at the tender age of thirteen. He is left at the mercy of the bawdyhouse owner, Moll, who is harsh, demanding, and uncaring. For his entire life, Billy has tried to prove himself and climb up the social ladder without caring who he steps on in the process. He has gotten by through dishonest means of theft and trickery, hurting the majority of people he comes across. Due to a twist of fate, Billy becomes accustomed to a life of luxury when the Marquess of Argyll keeps him in his own luxurious apartments. Despite living in comfort and ease, Billy craves freedom since living with the Marquess means that he is under his thumb and granted no freedoms. Billy is then thrown out of the Marquess’s apartments when he is discovered having an affair in order to earn money. Despite living in extravagance, the Marquess gave no money to Billy to keep him on a tight leash, hence the real reason why Billy was having an affair.
The story opens with Billy returning to the bawdyhouse he thought he had escaped for good and being thrown out by the owner, Moll, due to his dishonest behavior when he lived there. The reader gets the impression that Billy is receiving his comeuppance for using and abusing people’s trust.
While readers are taken on Billy’s inner journey toward becoming a better person, many important themes are interwoven into the novel. There are many distinctions made between the way the rich and poor of society live and how Billy is continually oscillating between the two states. When he is thrown out, Billy is forced to walk along the streets of London to find a shelter for himself. Being lower down the social ladder reminds Billy that while there is poverty and harshness associated with this, he has also gained something important to him: his freedom. This is evident in the following passage, “With an idea of crossing London Bridge for the City, Billy proceeded: a pedestrian, with all the freedoms and limitations thereof.”His desire to be safe, secure and pampered are in constant juxtaposition with his desire for sovereignty and freedom to live as he wishes. One of his initial thoughts after being thrown out of both Molls’ and the Marquess’s is as follows, “… a pedestrian’s London was a place no longer known to him. It was, as he knew quite well, entirely unlike the London crossed in a closed carriage.”
I personally found Billy to be a very complex character. He vacillated between being shallow and unscrupulous to deep and sincere within the space of a conversation. This is evidenced by one of my favorite exchanges in the book when Billy goes to see a tailor to sell his finer silks for more practical cotton clothes after he has lost everything. The tailor makes fun of Billy’s attire when he arrives after being drenched by rain. Their conversation is as follows, ““…and the coat,” continued the merchant, appearing not to have heard, “pulled hither and yon, quite out of shape. Tell me, have they great tempests blowing at Carlisle House?” After dallying another moment before the mirror, Billy sighed and approached the clothes merchant. “Only the winds of life, sir. What I reckon everyone must bear occasionally while seeking a path through it.””
I believe this exchange gives readers a glimpse into Billy’s soul and the hardships he has endured throughout life. It is also clear early on that one of the most important life lessons for Billy to learn is that money and material wealth do not equate to a happy life.
Another strong point of the novel is the love story. While Billy has not been touched by love, he finds that unfamiliar feelings begin to stir when a mysterious Tom Baker saves him after Billy gets beaten up by a client. Tom returns him to Moll’s. Between one of the other boys working at the bawdyhouse, Chandler, and Tom, Billy is allowed to stay. Tom is withdrawn and reticent which only piques Billy’s interest further. Despite their growing interest in one another, Billy is once more distracted by the glitz and glamour of the high life. This comes in the form of the ratcatcher, trickster, thief, and libertine, Roger Calcroft. He promises Billy a big life brimming with money, riches and above all security. He is intelligent and an expert on understanding and manipulating human behaviour. Over the space of a couple of interactions, Roger knows that what Billy wants is a home of his own. Roger then makes promises of how all of this would be possible if only Billy take part in his deceptive machinations and devious plans.
The author has great skill at capturing human psychology at work. This is encapsulated wonderfully in Roger’s ability to manipulate the weaknesses of others. Roger not only promises a home to Billy but the ability to have power and choice over his life, as is evidenced in the following, “I do not say I can give you this precise home; that would take some doing. The point is that you chose it. Choosing anything for yourself is a thing you have never done before. And if you have an aim firmly in mind, as you did when you asked to come inside, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” Roger is offering him something Billy has never possessed but always craved. Billy’s thoughts after this statement are as follows, “What he was offering, his actual lure, was control. For the first time in his life, Billy might take control – of the direction of his life, of where he chose to live, of how he chose to proceed.”
Overall, I liked the characters and found them to be real, raw, and relatable. The author has a deep understanding of human psychology, behaviour, and motivation. Moreover, the author provided artistic descriptions, and interesting phrases which depicted the language of the time period. This helped to set the scene of the life and language back then. Finally, the title of the novel was a true aha moment for me and was a great choice for tying the story together in a cohesive manner.
I found the storyline slow to pick up and would have liked a bit more action or perhaps another side story to have been embedded within the novel. I almost felt it was hyper focused on Billy and his inner struggles and would have liked to have seen that alleviated in parts. It would have been nice to have included a scene with Billy’s mother as she is alluded to often. To be able to experience their love and deep connection firsthand would have enriched the experience as opposed to simply reading about how the two of them shared similarities and had this bond of unconditional love. Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I extend my gratitude to the writer for crafting such a deep, poignant book with a moving storyline and complex characters. It was a wonderful read!
“Blue Billy's Rogue Lexicon” by David Lawrence receives 3.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company*
*Posted with permission from the author.
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