I finished reading Linda Buckley-Archer's The Tar Man in bed last night, losing sleep to finish it because the story had got so exciting I couldn't bear to put it aside. I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, Gideon the Cutpurse, when I read it last November (Review) so I had high hopes of this tale being as good as the first. My expectations were surpassed. The Tar Man is a totally compelling read.
The story is split between two main narrative strands. The Tar Man's experiences in 21st century London where he begins by causing havoc with an astonishing horse-riding stunt, and the experiences of Kate Dyer and Peter Schock's father in 18th century England and France. At the end of Gideon the Cutpurse, the Tar Man took Peter Schock's place and managed to travel to the 21st century, stranding Peter in the 18th century. He's taken under the wing of Gideon Seymour and his friends, and grows to maturity. When Kate and Peter's father try to use the anti-gravity machine to get back to 1763 to rescue Peter, they accidentally find themselves in 1792 instead, by which time Peter is now in his early 40s and the same age as his father. When he realises what's happened - that Kate and his father haven't aged and are looking for 12 year old Peter (only a few days have passed since Kate got back to the 21st century), he pretends to be Gideon's half-brother Joshua because he can't face the idea of telling his father who he is, knowing that his father has come for a 12 year old boy, not a grown man. So Peter travels to Derbyshire to tell Kate and his father that Peter Schock went to America twenty years ago and hasn't been heard from since (which is actually the fate that's befallen Joshua Seymour). The pair decide to return to the 21st century, but the anti-gravity machine won't work. They travel to London and visit Queen Charlotte (who had befriended both Kate and Peter during their visit to 1763, and remained friends with Peter after he was stranded) and Sir Joseph Banks, a distinguished scientist, in the hopes that Sir Joseph will be able to fix the machine. He cannot, so he recommends they visit the Marquis de Montfaron who has lately come from Revolutionary France and will, he believes, be able to assist them. Unfortunately de Montfaron is not in England, but still on his French estate, having refused to flee. So Kate, Mr Schock, Peter (in the guise of Joshua Seymour) and Hannah (Peter's housekeeper) set off to visit de Montfaron at his estate near Arras, braving the Revolutionists to do so.
Whilst this is going on, the Tar Man is settling into life in 21st century London - carrying out a series of daring thefts, spending money lavishly and trying to impress. He's aided by a young woman named Anjali whom he had saved from a gang of youths in the Underground, and his young apprentice, Tom, who had also travelled to the 21st century (during the events described in Gideon). When the Tar Man fails to blackmail his way into an exclusive London Club and Tom is killed trying to protect Anjali from the leader of the gang that had attacked her, he comes up with a new plan. He's going to steal one of the anti-gravity machines (there are now three in existence), travel back into time to his childhood and change his personal history to give him a better life.
Kate and Mr Schock succeed in finding de Montfaron and he is persuaded to return to London with them after his estate is plundered by the Revolutionists. He fixes the anti-gravity machine and they are able to return to the 21st century, taking de Montfaron with them. Whilst they've been trekking to France and back, Dr Dyer (Kate's father) has succeeded in travelling back in time to 1763 and locating 12 year old Peter Schock. And by this time, Kate and Mr Schock have discovered that "Joshua Seymour" is really the grown-up Peter Schock.
Having been reunited, the Schocks and the Dyers together with Anita Perretti (one of the NASA scientists who was working on a similar anti-gravity machine to the one that Dr Dyer was working on in Derbyshire), de Montfaron, and Inspector Wheeler (the policeman in charge of the hunt for the missing Kate and Peter) are having a celebratory lunch at the Dyers' farm, when the Tar Man arrives. He kidnaps Peter and Kate and steals the two anti-gravity machines, disappearing back to the 18th century with the intention of changing his own personal history.
This is a fairly complex plot and will require the reader to pay close attention to follow the various narrative strands in order not to get lost, but such attentiveness is amply rewarding by the gripping tale that unfolds. I was particularly intrigued by the conversations that the grown-up Peter has with both Hannah and Queen Charlotte with regard to what will happen if 12 year old Peter is found and returned to the 21st century. Will they have never known the grown up Peter? How will his disappearance from the 18th century timeline affect them and history. There are some interesting points raised here that will be familiar to anyone who's enjoyed a lot of time-travel narratives (as I have in various formats).
The Tar Man is out in September published by Simon and Schuster. My advanced copy was received (gratefully) from the author, Linda Buckley-Archer.