Revenge against one-eyed villain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 June, 2010, 12:00am

The Eyeball Collector
F.E. Higgins
Published by Macmillan
ISBN 978 0 230 53228 1

Sitting in her haunted house somewhere in England, with a quill in her hand, a false leg at her side and an eyeball watching her from a shelf over the fireplace, F.E. Higgins has created a place which stands at the centre of her dark, witty books.

Urbs Umida is a shadowy city tucked away in the mountains. It's a bleak place. The stinky River Foedus runs through the middle, dividing the city into the North and the South districts, each with their own grim problems and gloomy secrets. The South is a maze of slimy streets and dilapidated houses where most citizens live in poverty. The houses in the North are bigger and people there have money, living a life of ease and relative sophistication.

Young Hector Fitzbaudly lives with his butterfly-collecting father on the posh side of the River Foedus. But Hector longs to cross the bridge and investigate the seedy side of the city. He gets his chance one day in a completely unexpected way.

A mysterious man turns up at the Fitzbaudly mansion and threatens to blackmail Mr Fitzbaudly over a terrible secret from his past. The villain, Gulliver Truepin, is a one-eyed con artist with an interesting hobby of stealing jewels from the wealthy to make false eyeballs to replace his missing eye.

In the blink of one eyelid, Augustus Fitzbaudly finds himself facing ruin and promptly drops down dead. The boy heads off to the South side of the city, swearing revenge on the villain who has killed his father and ruined his life.

The Eyeball Collector is Higgins' third novel set in Urbs Umida. Its mix of Gothic nastiness, black humour and good, old-fashioned storytelling make for another exciting read.