It is the third year of the American Revolution and Tim Euston, a seventeen-year-old carpenter’s apprentice, has arrived in Morristown, New Jersey. George Washington’s army had just marched out to face the British, and Tim is eager to follow after them and join up as a common foot soldier. But before he can leave, Tim experiences some spectacular good luck. He impresses a drunken captain with military knowledge gained through his study of officers’ manuals and military histories. The captain impulsively decides he will recommend Tim for an officer’s commission to serve as his ensign. But Tim is not the only one who has been hoping to be an officer, and as news spreads, many are envious and resentful.
The captain has barely recovered from his hangover when Tim stumbles upon the body of a murdered officer. Those who resent Tim’s good fortune are quick to presume guilt. Tim now has to clear his name and as well prove he deserves a commission. But how? Is Tim’s remarkable good fortune turning out to be excessive good fortune?
When Tim talks it over with his sister Sadie and his best friend Dan, they only want to tease him.
“Watch out, Sadie!” hissed a young man’s voice from the door. “It’s Tim Euston you stand before. The crazed killer! There before you, and ready to kill again, no doubt!”
“Dan! Will you… you don’t…” stammered Tim.
“Now don’t worry yourself, boy,” said Dan Eliot as he came over to give him a pat on the shoulder. “We’ll believe that it wasn’t you. At least we’ll claim that we do.” …
“How do you know all this?” asked Tim.
“The colonel’s cook heard it all, over at Arnold’s Tavern. She was here just now, with some shortbread to sell. And while she waited for the mistress she was telling it all to your mother. And I was there to hear.”
“Well! Bad news travels fast,” grumbled Tim.
Thorleifson’s writing is clear and accessible. His language is simple but not simplistic. He anticipates the reader’s questions and his research has been thorough. The story stands out from other novels through the degree of its realism. Remarkable authenticity is achieved in his interweaving of mystery and intrigue with history and ideology. But it only reads like a history book in brief indented passages at the end of the chapters. The politics of war is expressed in brief but heated arguments. Tim’s nemesis, Lieutenant Hawke, speaks for those who oppose Tim.
“The position will be filled by this… this stranger – this boy! And when so many gentlemen volunteers are here and waiting for just such a posting! Men with knowledge and ability – men from good families. Good New Jersey men! Men who have freely given their time. Men whose honesty is beyond reproach! And… and the fool goes and picks a boy of seventeen years with no military experience – from no military family! And he was born and raised in Boston!”
In Tim’s Excessive Good Fortune, the bad guys are not so hateful that they make you want to throw down the book, and the good guys are not so noble of spirit that they’re boring. The characters never express an obviously modern opinion. Muzzle-loading pistols require a full 20 seconds to reload. No one buys anything they could never have afforded. At the beginning of each chapter is a highly realistic and truly excellent illustration that makes it easy to picture objects, actions and settings. The dialogue is authentic without being difficult. Even readers as young as ten can be immersed in the social history of the era, while being swept along by a plot that is not resolved until the last chapter.
Tim and Sadie are no ordinary pair of child laborers. The illegitimate offspring of a “kept woman”, they received a basic education before the bankruptcy of their faraway father cut off their support. Tim and Sadie had to work full time, but they continued reading Paine, Jefferson and other advocates of liberty.
The realism achieved by Thorleifson was made possible by an avalanche of recent historical research. Historians know far more now about life in the eighteenth century than they did fifty years ago. During that era, histories, novels and newspaper articles read like sermons, with exaggerations that led to false impressions. Fake news didn’t start with the internet. Thorleifson’s willingness to take full advantage of available research has resulted in a series of murder mysteries that reflect both popular ideology and everyday realities. Details like the cost of buying a rifle are given with the number of days of labor such a purchase would have demanded from an unskilled worker.
Comic relief offsets the torment of war, but in Tim’s Excessive Good Fortune such diversion does not rely on highly unlikely situations or the dry observations of an omnipotent narrator. The idealistic and determined Tim Euston acts as a straight man for the wit of Sadie and Dan. But their teasing does not detract from either the gravity of historic events or the suspense of an excellent murder mystery. The state of political turmoil that bears down so heavily upon the new nation is fully reflected in the anxiety and confusion that burden these young revolutionaries. Tim’s Excessive Good Fortune is full of action and conflict but it still rings true as a story that might actually have happened.
Third in the Tim Euston Series.
Mild violence. No disturbing content. P.C.
Available in audiobook format. (click here)
Roddy Thorleifson's webpage. (click here)