The Body in the Fog (2012) by Cora Harrison
Alfie and his "gang" are a group of children trying to make a living on the streets of Victorian London. There's Alfie, the leader, and his brother Sammy as well as his cousins Jack, Tom, and Sarah. Oh--and there's Musty their loyal guard dog. Sarah works in a pub, serving dinners. But the boys do everything from singing songs, providing rides on what sounds to me like a surfboard on the ponds, working for anyone who could use an extra hand--from tradesmen and fishermen to dockworkers needing help unloading cargo, and having Musty perform tricks for the crowds around Trafalgar Square. They just manage to make ends meet so they can keep their small home near St. Giles. They also have a way of stumbling into mysteries and Inspector Denham at their local police station often provides them with a few coins for assistance to the police.
This time they just might earn tenpounds....if they live long enough. Alfie and Jack are in Trafalgar Square one night when the come across the body of Jemmy, a well-known beggar, lying at foot of the statue in the square. Jemmy has been killed by a blow to the head. Just as they're discussing who would want to kill a beggar, cries of fire break out and in the confusion the post office cart is stolen. Alfie catches a glimpse of the masked man driving the cart and instantly recognizes a scar marking one Flash Harry, the leader of a hardened mob of criminals who have no second thoughts about eliminating those who get in their way. A piece of paper flies out Harry's hand and flutters to Alfie's feet. It's a scrap of very posh paper with no writing but containing a picture of a clock with hands pointing to 12 and a picture of the moon. The boys have no time to wonder about the paper because they see two rough men making their way towards them. Alfie quickly rolls the scrap into a little ball and shoves it into the carved pattern at the base of the statue. And the boys take off running.
When Alfie checks in with Inspector Denham, he's told that there is a reward for information leading to the arrest of the criminals. But he wants the boys to concentrate on the death of Jemmy. Denham is convinced that the beggar must have gotten in the way of the Flash Harry's plans, so he's sure that solving that mystery will lead them to where Flash Harry has hidden himself, his gang, and the diamonds that were in the stolen mail bags. And he thinks it's safer for the boys to ask questions about Jemmy than to try and hunt down Flash Harry. Harry has a way leaving the bodies of those who ask too many questions behind him. But Alfie is determined that his gang will do what they must to earn that 15 pounds.
This is a fun, fast-paced middle grade book. It introduces readers to Victorian England and has plenty of adventure and mystery to keep young readers interested. The gang all use their various gifts to help solve the mystery. Alfie and Jack are more adventurous and get involved in scrapes--picking up clues that they bring back to Sammy to help unravel. Sammy is blind--but very intelligent and very perceptive. Occasionally, Sammy goes along with Alfie and his perceptive hearing and sensitive nature picks up on clues that others would miss. He can also repeat overheard conversations with great accuracy and even can mimic voices he hears. Sarah's job in the pub gives her access to a lot of gossip, allowing her to overhear conversations that the others wouldn't. And Tom also has connections among some of the tradesmen he does odd jobs for. It all makes for a logical co-operative endeavor that allows the gang to bring vital information to Denham--just in time to catch Flash Harry before the gang can remove the diamonds from England for good. ★★★★
First line: Alfie saw the body just before all hell broke loose in Trafalgar Square.
Last line: And wherever he went, everyone would call him "sir."
Deaths = one hit on head; one strangled; one shot