Leon Garfield’s John Diamond, which was first published in 1980, has been reissued in a lovely new edition as part of the Vintage Children’s Classics range. Peter Williamson’s cover design is marvellous, and it fits wonderfully with the darkness of the story. Vintage have recommended that the book is suitable for everyone over the age of nine, and upon reading it from an adult stance, it is difficult to envision that anybody – indeed, of any age – would dislike it.
The novel opens in a manner which immediately piques the interest: ‘I ought to begin with the footsteps, but first of all I must tell you that my name is William Jones and that I was twelve years old when I began to hear them’. His father tells him whilst on his deathbed that he ‘swindled’ Mr Diamond out of a great fortune, and thus, the main thread of the story concerns William’s travels to London to ‘make amends’ with his late father’s old business partner. The ‘murky big city, with its sinister characters and treacherous back streets’ is clearly no place for him.
William tells us that ‘This story is about my father, chiefly. He was a tall, handsome man, with his own hair, his own teeth, and, in fact, with nothing false about him’. After his father’s death, he goes on to say, ‘I knew that, until I found Mr Diamond, neither my father nor I would ever have peace. Night after night he would shuffle and drag across the floor, amd night after night I would hear him; unless I left the house and set out on the journey that would lay his ghost’.
John Diamond is rather atmospheric at times, and it is filled with childish and rather amusing caricatures of those around William. His Uncle Turner, for example, with his ‘bullying face’ and ‘strong smell of peppermint’, was ‘a stern, God-fearing man, and I think the feeling must have been mutual – God, I mean, being frightened of him’. William himself is brave and likeable, and much care and compassion is built up for him as the novel progresses.
Garfield’s novel is cleverly crafted, the first person narration works marvellously, and plot details are dripped in at intervals throughout to keep the interest of the reader. Vintage have lovingly overseen the production of John Diamond, adding rather a fun section called ‘The Backstory’ at the end of the book, which invited readers to learn how to speak in Cockney rhyming slang, as well as providing a quiz, an author biography, and facts about London in the time in which the novel is set. John Diamond is certainly deserving of this reprinting, and it is sure to be a wonderful addition to any bookshelf.