Bogles don’t hide in closets; they hide in small, dark places where they lie in wait for children they can devour. Many adults don’t believe bogles exist, but Jem has seen a bogle. When a child is sent to fetch some sherry from a basement and never returns, Mable goes in search of help and finds Jem. Jem searches out the only person who can help, a bogler named Alfred.
In order to catch a bogle, Alfred needs some bait—a singing child. In order to get off of the streets, Jem agrees to be bogle bait. Jem and Alfred meet several interesting characters who have bogles that need eradicating. Soon they discover they need the help of Birdie, a gutsy girl with a beautiful voice.
To complicate the story, Jem is also trying to hide a secret. As Jem tries to help solve the mystery of why there are so many bogles in one area, he is also trying to find Sarah Pickles, the woman who sold him as bogle food.
The story begins with suspense and mystery that make it more interesting for readers, but the language may be difficult for younger audiences. For example, Jem says, “I never prigged a thing, save for that morsel o’ cheese.” The book also mentions debtors’ prisoners and homeless children. The complicated themes and adult nature of some scenes may not be suitable for all children.
Jem is frightened of going to prison because of his past misdeeds, and he thinks about this often. Even though Jem does not want to end up in prison, he does not feel bad about stealing. Instead, Jem seems to think thievery is acceptable. Jem, “had always favored the idea of bogling, because bogling was such a flash occupation, like smuggling or highway robbery.” As Alfred and Jem go about the city, they spend time in a tavern, where alcohol is served. (Although Jem would like some, Alfred won’t allow it.)
- When Jem picks a morsel o’ cheese off the floor and eats it, he is beaten.
- Jem is in a circle of salt when a bogle puts its two viscous arms around him. Then he jumps out of the way when he hears “a cry and a loud hissing noise. The air filled with foul-smelling steam,” and the bogle is dead. (In total there are three bogles that are killed, in a similar fashion.)
- Jem thinks about Newgate prison, a place he fears, because he knew “several people who had been hanged there.”
- At one point in the story, Jem remembers a time when he “once helped to rob a woman’s house while she was making her regular weekly visit to her dead child’s grave.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- A child was working for a tavern. She was sent to fetch some sherry when she disappeared; she’s presumed to be eaten by a bogle.
- Jem sings the following song: “There is a nook in the boozing ken,/Where many a mug I fog,/and the smoke curls gently, while cousin Ben/keeps filling the pots again and again,/ if the covers have stumped their hogs./The liquors around is diamond bright,/And the diddle is best of all;/ But I never in liquors took much delight,/For liquors I think is all bite.”
- After Alfred and Jem dispose of a bogle, they go to a tavern where Alfred was jostled by “loud men in dirty clothes, many of whom were so drunk that only the press of bodies kept them upright. Jem noticed at least two gaping pockets just asking to be picked-pockets belonging to men who would never know, by morning, whether they had spent their missing money or been fleeced of it.”
- The following is another song Jem sings: “The heavy wet in a pewter quart/ As brown as a badger’s hue, More than Bristol milk or gin,/ Brandy or rum I tipple in, With me darling blown, Sue.”
- To catch a bogle, Alfred must lay out a circle of salt with a gap in the ring so the boggle can enter it. In order to kill a bogle, it must be hit with a spear.
- When a bogle is near, a child feels a sense of despair.