The Black Book of Secrets - F.E. Higgins What can one say about this book? Well, let us start from the beginning. F.E. Higgins’ book, The Black Book of Secrets, takes place in two distinct locations—one being a gruesome city literally called the City (I wonder where Higgins found such a creative name for her town) and a smaller, more collective town called Pagus Parvus. The two cities are polar opposites in which one brings forth chaos and destruction, whilst the other takes a more subtle approach… though still evil incarnate.

Enter Ludlow Fitch, a young boy born and raised in the City who is terrorized by his parents every second of the day. Being raised since birth to be a low-class citizen, he takes up the business of thievery for the sole purpose of getting his parents off his back long enough for him to breathe. What else could he have done? If he did otherwise, all that would await him at home was a killer beating from his father, with the cheers of his mother in the background. His only escape was to do what he was told whilst staying away from home as much as possible. You know, like any other teenager! Usually the place he ran to was a pawnbroker’s shop inhabited by Lembart Jellico, who plays a minor yet key role in this horror.

One day Fitch’s parents come up with the brilliant idea to sell their son’s teeth. Why? Because teeth back then were worth lots of money. So, for such petty reasons, they call in Dr. Barton Gumbroot (I'm not too fond of the pun either), a psychotic dentist who deals in shady business, like ripping out the teeth from the poor so they could have a decent buck in their pockets. I swear, I don’t care how poor I am. I will never stoop so low as to sell my own teeth for money. Besides that, since there was no novocaine back then, I would be in extreme pain… and I don’t do well with pain.

Apparently, neither do Fitch’s parents since they tell the dentist to yank his teeth out without giving two chickens about it! Dr. Gumbroot then takes his place over the child, drooling as if he was having some sort of arousal out of this, and the father of the child holding down his kid. What kind of parents does this kid have? Not to mention his parents are laughing at every wince he makes. Sickos… Anyway, the poor boy is then in excruciating pain whilst having metal pliers, that’ve been most likely in a drunkard’s mouth, pull hard on his shiny teeth. With blood pouring down his mouth, he gets a stunning realization: He’s going to die right there and then if he doesn't do something!

To make a long story short, he kicks the father, steals the pliers away from the dentist, hits the dentist with said pliers over the head, ignores his mother cowering like a wimp in the corner, and manages to escape from the City to a much gentler, quieter, though equally as vicious, place called Pagus Parvus. It is at this location where he meets Joe Zabbidou, a man shrouded in mystery who carries immense knowledge about frogs… and other stuff, I’m sure. He, too, is a pawnbroker but not like what you have in mind. Sure he buys worthless items from the villagers looking to find some money. However, he also buys secrets!

Every detail of a person’s past and dirty deed they partook in is then written in the Black Book of Secrets. Zabbidou, being an aging man who can no longer handle the hardship of writing stuff down in the book (I’m guessing) hires Ludlow Fitch to do the new data entering. Naturally, coming from a life of poverty, Fitch accepts his new job since it will keep a roof over his head and his belly full. Anybody with a brain would have done so.

Much of the same thing happens afterwards in the story. Joe Zabbidou goes up to a person claiming he could help them be at peace with themselves, that person goes to see him at the dead of night, they tell their story, Fitch writes it in the book, Zabbidou pays them for their secret, and then they go home happy. Simple enough, no? Wrong! Here comes the story’s antagonist, Jeremiah Ratchet, the man who basically owns everything in Pagus Parvus and rules the place with an iron fist! Got to love dictators!

He can’t take the fact that the townsfolk see hope in the form of Zabbidou. He wants them to quake in their boots and tremble in fear with just the mere mention of the name Ratchet. Nearly everyone was in debt with his outrageous prices on rent. This pile of evil nothing even thought up ways to have everyone doing dirty deeds in order to pay him the rent they owed. So, of course, with the new pawnbroker in town buying up the town’s secrets, everyone was paying off their debts. Naturally, this made Ratchet a very unhappy person. He formulates schemes to get revenge and what not which all seems to end in failure. I’m not going to give away any of it but let me just say that the story does make you want to start yelling at the book just so that pathetic excuse of a business man could get it! He was so deliciously evil… I couldn’t get enough of it!

The story is rather unique and it did make me want to continue reading till the end. The plot was a bit sketchy but it makes up for it with detailed characters that have dark pasts and worries that plague their minds. In fact, because of this, it makes you believe that the characters are that much more alive and not just some fictional people who came out of a person’s head, even though they are.

For this to be Higgins’ first book, I am truly impressed. I love how she described each event in great detail and how well she thought out her characters. Such thinking made it out to be a very entertaining book. I also love how she had the book written in two different perspectives. One was of Ludlow Fitch and it was written in first person. During this time of the story, he was saying the story as if he was writing down his thoughts in a diary. The other was written in third person just like any other novel. I thought that this writing style was very unique and it drew me even closer to the book.

However, there are some areas of the book where I felt it was lacking. For example, the character of Joe Zabbidou. She never went into great detail about him. I mean, where did he come from? Why does he buy secrets? How come no matter what happens, he always seems to know the outcome? What? Is he like some fortune teller that can read minds? Is he a seer that has a dream of helping those with horrible pasts? Did he injure his leg because of his former dancing career? I don’t know. Although I love how throughout the entire book he’s nothing but a mystery, I feel that there should have been a bit more explaining about where he came from. He’s still a loveable character. I just find it a bit difficult to fall completely in love with him since I know nothing about him… but that’s just me.

Another problem I saw with this book was its ending. It was more bitter sweet than anything. I was expecting more of an impact than it left me. It really left a lot of questions out in the air which I never did like in stories such as this. You know, like the ending of “Avatar: the Last Airbender.” It’s good, but because of so many questions left unanswered, it leaves a lot of us disappointed.

With all that, however, it is still a very entertaining book and worth the read. Though not the best book ever made, this book still contains a pretty decent storyline with well-developed characters and lots of twisted evil that drags in any person with a taste for excitement... or mental issues. I forget which. I read it in a single day and I was pretty satisfied with the outcome, despite its minor fallbacks. Hey, at least it didn’t make me want to pull my hair out or jump out of a window (Like some books which shall remain nameless for peace’s sake).

All-in-all, I recommend this book to both children and adults alike! Well, young adults. The older ones might not like it too much. Actually, with its sinister opening, I’m sure there are lots of older adults who would find this book appealing! I give this book a four out of five for keeping me happy all the way up to the bitter end! Good job Higgins!