Life on the streets of London’s East End in 1921 presents thirteen-year-old Malcolm Roberts with a daunting array of challenges. Trying to stand up to bullies is hard enough. And pluck can backfire. While trailing some suspicious youths in Whitechapel, he stumbles upon a back-alley plot to purge Limehouse of its Chinese inhabitants. Malcolm cannot imagine what he could do about it.
Like most of his schoolmates, he is tempted to lose himself in play and books. But his home life has changed. His mother is two years in the grave and his father fights an ongoing battle with shell shock and drink.
Before Malcolm can make a decision, someone dear to him is murdered. Soon thereafter, a mysterious young woman offers her help to find the killer and the alliance complicates his life even further. His only real support comes from his friend Sid Shapiro and a Chinese urchin called Jun. Together, they discover the connection between the murder and the looming crisis.
Fear of a vicious policeman prevents Malcolm from reporting those facts to the authorities. It becomes a race against time as the alleyways of Stepney, Whitechapel and Limehouse become even more dangerous. Will Malcolm and his mates prove themselves up to the challenge?
John Campbell’s A Lark Ascending is a poignant coming of age story set against the backdrop of London’s East End post-WWI.
Campbell’s vivid descriptions and lyrical prose transports the reader, and the story is at once adventurous and tender. The characters are well-rounded, and the plot is gripping. The protagonist is an intelligent, courageous young boy who finds himself facing both petty bullies and those who pervert their position of power in his quest to solve a murder and interrupt a plot against the Chinese locals. Compassionate and feeling the first nudges toward adulthood, the young hero is struggling to come to grips with the death of his mother and the damage the war has wrought on his father. The internal and external conflict he faces is well-balanced and well-crafted.
Treachery and racial tensions abound in A Lark Ascending, and in this work Campbell has provided an evocative, insightful tale for all ages.