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Excerpt from Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Death and Mr. Pickwick

by Stephen Jarvis

Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis X
Death and Mr. Pickwick by Stephen Jarvis
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2015, 816 pages

    Jun 2016, 816 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Rebecca Foster
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

'I know that,' I said, 'but I also know the rook is protected by law these days.'

He eyed me suspiciously. 'These fowls were found in the road – run over.'

'Then I am afraid that this bird collected some strange pebbles in its crop.'

I reached into my mouth and pulled out the metal pellet I had bitten upon. It was the second. The first I had placed discreetly on my plate when the fat man was in a reverie of chewing, but this second I placed in full view, a tiny black sphere on the white tablecloth. I prodded it forward, so it trundled towards him like a miniature marble, and rolled under his plate. 'Shooting rooks has been outlawed since 1981,' I said. 'I know, because I went out shooting last May, just to see what it was like. Unfortunately, the police were tipped off before I reached the rookery. I was released with a caution.'

He put down his knife and fork and leant back in his chair, looking at me with more interest than at any previous moment. I may have been nervous at the start, but I was confident now. And I knew I was hired. I had not been out shooting, I might add, but I did know about the law, and as soon as I bit the pellet, I guessed how to make the job my own.

*   *   *

In the ten years since that meeting, I have worked my way through the collection of books, papers, pictures, correspondence and notes the fat man had accumulated, over the course of many years, in his substantial house. The house itself he had chosen for its previous occupation, for until the early twentieth century it was used for the production of churchwarden pipes, and was probably one of the last such workshops. One can still lift the corner of a carpet and see, in the grooves between the floorboards, traces of white pipeclay dust.

I was employed to produce the work which I lay before you now. I have edited some parts, written others. The sustained period of sitting and writing has had a physical effect – for time and snacking have swollen my once athletic form. My shirts are larger these days, my belt buckle is no longer visible under my stomach. These effects would undoubtedly make me more respectable, as an author, in the fat man's eyes.

He decided that I would write under the pseudonym 'Inscriptino', a printer's error from early copies of the first edition of 'the immortal work', a corruption of the word 'inscription'. Often, in our late-night conversations by the fire, he would shorten my pseudonym to Scripty. As for himself, he wished to be known as 'Mr Inbelicate', derived from another printer's error, this time for 'indelicate'. He explained, once I was appointed, that my duty was to correct historical errors, until, at some moment in the future, on the very day when my duty was completed, there would be a renaming ceremony, and a chinking of tankards, and we would say as a toast: 'To indelicate' and 'To inscription'.

The renaming was not possible. For Mr Inbelicate died seven years ago. I believe he feared his time was short when he appointed me. 'I shall never be an indelicate old man,' he said, his frail voice emerging from his thin and wasted body, in his bed, towards the end, 'but you must become an inscription.'

Mr Inbelicate bequeathed me his house and monetary assets as well as his maid – and I duly married the latter. Her name is not really Mary, it was the name he had chosen, but it has become her name, for I am so used to it.

Every May, she still serves me rook pie – though it is rook served with one of her winks, and bears a strong resemblance to pigeon.

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