Excerpt from The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux

by Geraldine McCaughrean

The Death-Defying Pepper Roux
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Jan 2010, 336 pages
    May 2012, 352 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

And never got killed.

The days clattered down like rows of dominoes. Pepper's voice broke and so did his mother's heart, knowing'The Time' must be near. She bit her lip and prayed for her boy's end to come painlessly, without suffering. Aunt Mireille, though, was more practical. She rehearsed him in what to say when he reached Paradise: greetings and messages for him to deliver when he met up with the Blessed Dead. When he failed to learn them, she took to pushing slips of paper into his pockets, and up the cuffs of his nightshirt.'Now be sure to give this to Aunt Félice, won't you, child? And this to Père Michel.' There would be others, when he went up to bed, pinned to his bedhead with sewing needles or brooches:

'Kindly pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Your obedient servant, Mireille Lepont (Miss).'

Pepper himself took to climbing to the top of anything tall - hills, trees, roofs - to see if Death was riding towards him on a white horse, under a black banner, or preceded by a pillar of fire. He scanned the sky for angels sitting on the clouds fishing for souls with perch rods; for fiery chariots descending to kidnap him. Heights did not frighten him. After years of wondering how he would die - comparing the options, as it were - he had decided that Falling would be best: it would feel quite like flying on the way down, and the pain would be quickly over. Not that he would get to choose. Childhood was a gin trap from which he could never expect to escape. The world was something happening to other people - people with destinations other than a plot in the graveyard. So Pepper perched, like a migratory bird on a twig, waiting for winter.

But winter did not come.

His aunt treated him more and more coldly, like a guest who has outstayed his welcome. Even his father found him a sort of embarrassment -'What, you still here, boy?' - when he came home between voyages.

'I'm sorry, Papa.'

'Are you sure you didn't mis-hear, Mireille?' the captain snapped at his sister-in-law.'Mistake fourteen for forty? Easy mistake. Fourteen. Forty.'

Pepper was so taken with this idea that he leapt upright in his chair and knocked over a glass of water that swamped his aunt's bread plate.

No, Mireille assured them, poking her wetted bread disgustedly with a fork: Saint Constance had very good diction and formed all her words beautifully. She had definitely said Pepper would be dead by the time he was fourteen. 'In fact... ' said Mireille, remembering to mention it for the first time,'in fact, she has repeated it to me on several occasions. FOURTEEN.'

To escape their reproach, Pepper took himself off into the fields and shot inanimate objects with his father's pistol. He had no taste for shooting live things, like rats or pigeons: he felt too much in common with them, being short-lived and a bit of a nuisance himself. He would have liked to shoot all the wretched rooks that were plaguing the estate. Aunt Mireille promised that birds-of-ill-omen would'gather overhead when The Hour has come'. But he supposed it was unkind to shoot the rooks just because they wore funeral black.

'We thought a trip to church and then a walk as far as the river,' said Auntie, as Pepper sat down to his last breakfast.

'I went to confession yesterday,' he said.

'Can we go on our knees too often before the throne of God?' enquired Mireille in a whisper, as though she were already in church. Pepper was tempted to say that yes, he thought one probably could. His kneecaps had large ugly calluses on them from kneeling to pray. What maiden would ever look kindly upon such kneecaps? Aunt Mireille frequently told him to loathe his mortal flesh. But Pepper could only manage to loathe his knees. The rest of him he was secretly rather fond of. Like a beautiful watch, it might not go for long without stopping, but it was pretty even so.

Excerpted from The Death-Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean. Copyright © 2010 by Geraldine McCaughrean. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Children's Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member
and discover your next great read!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Crossing the Horizon
    Crossing the Horizon
    by Laurie Notaro
    In Crossing the Horizon, Laurie Notaro takes us back to a time when flying was a rare and risky ...
  • Book Jacket
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Of Arms and Artists
    Of Arms and Artists
    by Paul Staiti
    In the late eighteenth-century, the United States of America was still an emerging country, ...
Book Discussions
Book Jacket
The Bone Tree
by Greg Iles

An epic trilogy of blood and race, family and justice.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Next
    by Stephanie Gangi

    Fast-paced, wickedly observant, and haunting in the best sense of the word.

    Read Member Reviews

Win this book!
Win The World of Poldark

Win the book & DVD

Enter to win The World of Poldark and the full first series on DVD.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One S D N M A S

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.


Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!

Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.