Sergeant Cribb finds himself investigating a ring promoting the illegal sport of bare-knuckle boxing. So Cribb sends Constable Jago, the police boxing champion, to the gang's secret training centre to see what's going on.
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Age has indeed withered the proprietress of London's Temple School for child actors, but custom has yet to stale her infinite, cadging variety. Freddie--born Frieda Wentworth--is Penelope Fitzgerald's most marvelous sacred monster, a woman insanely devoted to her art. Over several decades she has foiled debt collectors, creditors, and bailiffs at every turn. What matter if Freddie's Covent Garden redoubt is freezing and falling apart, her own office-cum-bedroom a haven for must and dust, mold and mothballs? When one would-be financier has the temerity to display a balance sheet, she orders him to put it away, "in the tone she used to the local flasher." After all, this force of theatrical nature can always rely on actors and theaters for desperate, last-minute donations. On the other hand, it is 1963, and the school is threatened by others specializing in film and TV training, but so far Freddie is sticking to her Shakespearean guns.
The Temple's permanent staff consists of an unskilled handyman and Freddie's assistant and dresser, the possibly malevolent Miss Blewett. Its acting coaches include a man who's made his career out of understudying Nana, the dog-nurse in Peter Pan. Needless to say, the students are not impressed. To further trim expenses, Freddie has hired two new teachers from Northern Ireland. One, Hannah Graves, is qualified; the other, Pierce Carroll, decidedly not--but Freddie hires him for other reasons: "She had heard in his remarks the weak, but pure, voice of complete honesty. She was not sure that she had ever heard it before, and thought it would be worth studying as a curiosity." These two innocents are in academic charge of the young thespians, an egomaniacal, mostly mendacious lot. (In a stage school, after all, insincerity is a good thing.) But Freddie's does house one genius: 9-year-old, unknowable Jonathan Kemp. Even his guinea pig inherits his bad luck, and is soon devoured by one of the theater district's roving felines. Jonathan seems destined to be overshadowed by Mattie Stewart (later Stewart Matthews), a showoff who at least has the grace--even if it is manifested in spurts of violence--to know himself inferior. Meanwhile, we watch Pierce fall in love, hopelessly, with his colleague. Alas, he hasn't a chance against the dissipated actor Boney Lewis, though Hannah tries not to destroy him: "At the corner, she gave him a hug and a kiss, as one does to a cousin, or to the inconsolable."
At Freddie's, Penelope Fitzgerald's 1982 parable of the talents, constantly shifts between such despair and high comedy. Many Fitzgerald-philes feel that she reached her apex in her three European novels--Innocence, The Beginning of Spring, and The Blue Flower. In fact, she had already arrived there with this perfect novel of ideas, ideals, and oddities. --Kerry FriedAbout the Author:
PENELOPE FITZGERALD wrote many books small in size but enormous in popular and critical acclaim over the past two decades. Over 300,000 copies of her novels are in print, and profiles of her life appeared in both The New Yorker and The New York Times Magazine. In 1979, her novel Offshore won Britain's Booker Prize, and in 1998 she won the National Book Critics Circle Prize for The Blue Flower. Though Fitzgerald embarked on her literary career when she was in her 60's, her career was praised as "the best argument.. for a publishing debut made late in life" ( New York Times Book Review). She told the New York Times Magazine, "In all that time, I could have written books and I didn’t. I think you can write at any time of your life." Dinitia Smith, in her New York Times Obituary of May 3, 2000, quoted Penelope Fitzgerald from 1998 as saying, "I have remained true to my deepest convictions, I mean to the courage of those who are born to be defeated, the weaknesses of the strong, and the tragedy of misunderstandings and missed opportunities, which I have done my best to treat as comedy, for otherwise how can we manage to bear it?"
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Book Description Wm Collins & Sons & Co, 1982. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0002220644