The acclaimed author of Finn “digs down to the bones of a classic and creates must-read modern literature” (Charles Frazier, New York Times bestselling author) with this “clever riff” (The Washington Post) on Dickens’s classic A Christmas Carol that explores of the relationship between Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley.
“Marley was dead, to begin with,” Charles Dickens tells us at the beginning of A Christmas Carol. But in Jon Clinch’s “masterly” (The New York Times Book Review) novel, Jacob Marley, business partner to Ebenezer Scrooge, is very much alive: a rapacious and cunning boy who grows up to be a forger, a scoundrel, and the man who will be both the making and the undoing of Scrooge.
They meet as youths in the gloomy confines of Professor Drabb’s Academy for Boys, where Marley begins their twisted friendship by initiating the innocent Scrooge into the art of extortion. Years later, in the dank heart of London, their shared ambition manifests itself in a fledgling shipping empire. Between Marley’s genius for deception and Scrooge’s brilliance with numbers, they amass a considerable fortune of dubious legality, all rooted in a pitiless commitment to the soon-to-be-outlawed slave trade.
As Marley toys with the affections of Scrooge’s sister, Fan, Scrooge falls under the spell of Fan’s best friend, Belle Fairchild. Now, for the first time, Scrooge and Marley find themselves at odds. With their business interests inextricably bound together and instincts for secrecy and greed bred in their very bones, the two men engage in a shadowy war of deception, forged documents, theft, and cold-blooded murder. Marley and Scrooge are destined to clash in an unforgettable reckoning that will echo into the future and set the stage for Marley’s ghostly return.
“Read through to the last page of this brilliant book, and I promise you that you will have a permanently changed view, not just of Dickens’s world, but of the world we live in today” (Elizabeth Letts, New York Times bestselling author).
Clinch's gripping tale spins a dark backstory for two of Dickens's most notorious characters, Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge. As soon as Marley encounters Scrooge during dank boarding school days, he embarks upon his life of financial shenanigans, beginning with misappropriating Scrooge's meager allowance. In London, the two ambitious young entrepreneurs join forces, but Marley is ever the swindler, concealing profits and their continued involvement in the slave trade as Scrooge beavers away at their accounts. They court the worthy young women readers know: Scrooge's sister Fan, and the beautiful Belle, threatened with destitution. Loved by Belle, Scrooge softens, but Marley goes deeper into nefarious dirty dealing. In this version of the story, Marley is the nastier piece of work, breaking Fan's heart and so defrauding Scrooge as to make him believe he must abandon Belle. Clinch terrifies his readers by flinging Dickens's beloved characters into Marley's fires, winding the plot strings so tight it's almost unbearable. The bait-and-switch ending in which the author must sync his story with the one with which we are familiar is the only flaw in an otherwise canny book. If A Christmas Carol tugs at the heartstrings, Clinch's novel deepens the story to eviscerate the whole heart.