Stand and Deliver!
Having worked for most of my teaching career in the London Borough of Hounslow, close to Hounslow Heath, for 100 years between the 17th and 18th centuries, the most dangerous place in England on account of highwaymen, I was drawn to this story and quickly found myself gripped.
A victim of these times and of circumstance is young Ned. Awkward, shy and trying his best to find where he fits in the world, the lad has become unpaid assistant to The Shadow, the nation’s most feared highwayman aka Tom Gregory. Living in Epping Forest, The Shadow identifies himself with Robin Hood, robbing only the rich that cross his path as he proudly informs Ned, although conveniently, he ignores the part about giving to the poor and relies on his apprentice for assistance to avoid being sent to the gallows for his crimes.
Ned longs to be an apprentice carpenter but is too scared to run away from Tom Gregory in case he should end up in the workhouse. Instead he is pulled into a life of risky adventure and when Tom is injured, the lad finds himself taking over his master’s role and even briefly, his identity. Then he happens upon the infamous Bloodstone of Jaipur, a jewel said to be cursed and resulting in the death of every man who ever laid hands upon it. This jewel forces Ned to make a vital choice.
The tension builds as Ned makes new friends and some enemies too. The former include Eliza, bold determined daughter of thief-taker, William Parbold. While Parbold believes Eliza should be spending her time preparing to become a fine lady and thence wife to a good husband, she is determined to work alongside her father in a role that society at that time deemed totally unsuitable for a young woman.
As the tale twists and turns there’s plenty of excitement, daring deeds and some very scary episodes too, before this wonderful romp comes to a satisfying close.