Everybody knows bad things happen in London. Really bad things. Things that if you saw them happen for real you’d have traumatic stress disorder for the rest of your life, but somehow reading about them in books makes them not only bearable but positively delicious.
I’m a total coward. It would be nice to think I’d be one of those people who steps into a fight and stands up for the kid about to be pulverized, but actually I’d be more likely to duck into Tesco Metro and become very interested in the salad counter. If I got mugged I’d hand over my mobile, my wallet and my keys without a peep, then throw in my shoes for luck.
But that’s why I read; because I get to be the hero for a bit. Or at least, hang out with him. The hero of The Hanged Man Rises would probably quite enjoy being a coward, but it’s a luxury Titus can’t afford. If you were a pauper in Victorian London you had to fight to stay alive, literally. At first Titus thinks that all he has to do is find a way to provide food and shelter for his little sister, Hannah. That’s ok: it’ll be hard, but he can cope with that. But things get much, much worse when the kind and decent police Inspector who gives him a job becomes possessed by the spirit of a hanged child murderer. If Titus can’t stop him, the Inspector will kill more children, and probably end up on the gallows. And then the murderer’s attention turns to Hannah…
Sounds sadistic, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I like Titus. He’s brave, determined and fiercely loyal. But to reveal the potential of all those characteristics he has to go through some really tough times. He has to deserve his happy ending (if he gets one…). Because its only when we’re put under extreme pressure that our true characters come out. Who knows, in a plane crash I might be the one to dive back into the inferno and haul the baby from the jaws of death. Or I might just be the one who tramples on your head to get to the exit. With a bit of luck I won’t ever have to find out: I can be both. When I feel like being virtuous I just read about Sam Gamgee or Joey the war-horse. And if I’m feeling villainous, I can revel in a Darren Shan or a Horrible Histories. Three guesses which I prefer.