The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
Eel’s early morning spent scavenging on the Thames River as a “mud-lark” brought a few things to the surface. There was a nice piece of copper, but he had to give that over to one of the stronger mud-larkers, a kindly blacksmith turned to this low way of making a living. But he did come away with two valuable things—or at least valuable to him. One was a half-drowned cat, thrown into the river by a bully boy. The other was a word of warning from the old blacksmith. Fish-Eye Bill was looking for him again, he said. A year Eel had spent in an easier life, getting his schooling, working two jobs and staying away from places he might be seen by Bill’s crew. It sounded like the makings for serious danger. Though in Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble, Eel’s problems are only beginning.
Skittering back to his first main job of the day as an errand runner, he finds he’s been fired unfairly when an owner’s son decides to blame his own thieving ways on Eel. Eel desperately needs that money to support a secret he dare not tell anybody about. Going to his friend the tailor’s for support, he is shocked and saddened by the scene he finds. The tailor is ill unto death with the malady that turns a person blue and is highly contagious, so contagious that by the end of the day, Eel has picked up another job, helping the coffin men load their sad bundles.
No one really knows what causes cholera, or the Blue Death, as it’s become known, but as Eel watches his friends and neighbors die in a horribly painful way, he very much knows he wants to do something. Perhaps his other boss could help. A scientist and physician to Queen Victoria, Dr. John Snow might assist them in finding a way to stop it. Eel is willing to do anything to help Dr. Snow, but all the while the boy is undertaking this dangerous work, he has to keep an eye out for the ruthless, vicious man who is hunting him.
Set in Victorian England in 1854, Deborah Hopkinson blends a true story from daring frontiers of science with satisfying adventure in The Great Trouble.