"You must find money, Tom." Tom Tin sees his father, a sea captain without a ship to command, dragged off to debtor's prison. Taking his father's parting words to heart, 14-year-old Tom sets out to roam London's streets in search of some way to aid his family. He encounters a variety of unsavory characters, and the events of this one night drastically alter the course of his life.
On the banks of the Thames, Tom struggles with a blind vagabond over a priceless jewel --- one he knows could change his family's fortunes and bring his father home. Running from the river with the gem hidden in his coat pocket, Tom hitches a ride with Worms, a man who makes his living digging up graves and selling the corpses to a doctor. He ensnares Tom into helping him, and the body they uncover is that of a boy who looks remarkably like Tom.
Next, Tom is taken in by a gang of street children who at first mistake him for a friend of theirs who recently died. After he gets caught up in a robbery attempt that goes awry, Tom finds himself in front of the magistrate. He's cleared of the robbery charge, but something worse is in store for Tom. He's falsely accused of killing the old blind man, who has been found dead.
Convicted of murder, Tom is sentenced to seven years and is held on the Lachesis, an old ship that acts as a floating prison for delinquent boys. Iain Lawrence makes the hardscrabble life aboard the ship come alive and places the reader right alongside Tom as he eats gruel, wears pounds of heavy chains on his wrists and ankles, scrubs floors, and endures beatings from the guards. Tom must also use his wits --- and sometimes his fists --- to protect himself and his new friend, Midgely, from the cruelty of Weedle and his gang.
Tom knows he won't last long on the ship, and he begins to plot his escape. Will he succeed? Will he take his new friend, Midgely, with him or leave the other boy behind to endure life on the horrid ship? Will Tom be reunited with his family? Will he recover the gem from its unlikely hiding place? And who was the boy who looked so much like Tom? These questions drive the story and make THE CONVICTS a true page-turner. Throughout the story Tom displays both flashes of sincerity and selfishness, and he undergoes a personal transformation along with his physical journey. The boy who leaves home on a foggy London night is definitely not the same one readers bid farewell to at the end of the book.
In THE CONVICTS, Lawrence combines vivid descriptions, authentic detail, a likable hero, and a few dastardly villains. It's mystery, history, and intrigue galore in this story of newfound courage and unexpected friendship. Tom Tin is a fictional character, but as you match him step for step on this wild adventure, you just might believe otherwise...
Reviewed by Shannon McKenna on April 12, 2005