The Outlaws Scarlett and Brown (UPDATED)- Jonathan Stroud
Updated: Mar 31
UPDATED 31st March 2021 as part of the blogtour for the book - thank you to Walker Books, Jonathan Stroud and Kirsten for including whatiread.co.uk in this event!
READ an exclusive extract of the book here!
The Outlaws Scarlett & Browne by Jonathan Stroud
Published by Walker Books
Chapter Two – Part 1
[Continuing from Chapter One, published on Tuesday, 30th March]
As always, Mr H. J. Appleby, manager of the Cheltenham Co-Operative Bank, was enjoying his lunchtime cup of tea. He had already eaten his sandwiches. His biscuits, coarse-cut oat-and-ginger, Mrs Simpson’s best, were happily still to come. His waistcoat felt tight, and the prospect of making it even tighter gave Mr Appleby a sense of familiar wellbeing.
In the corner of the room the grandfather clock – known as ‘Old Glory’ to four generations of his family – continued its deep, reassuring count-out of the seconds. The bank below was shut, all the tellers having gone to enjoy their lunch hour in the late spring sunshine. If he swivelled the chair, Mr Appleby could see them; in fact, he could see a fair few of the good people of Cheltenham on the high street below his window. The shop workers gossiping, the post-girls finishing their rounds, his tellers queuing at Simpson’s the Bakers… Sunlight glinted on clean tarmac and on the chrome handlebars of the bicycles in their racks. Everything was nice and orderly, calm and quiet. Just the way, Mr Appleby reflected, that things should be.
Without urgency, he surveyed the papers on his desk. They had been carefully stacked and labelled by Miss Peterson. From the coloured tabs, he knew there were some Faith House documents to review, payments to be authorised, letters to sign. Not onerous, and certainly nothing as important as the biscuits. He chuckled to himself, reached out towards the plate—
—and paused. There had been no noise, but something had altered in the room.
He looked up abruptly.
A girl was standing in the doorway.
“It’s lunch hour,” Mr Appleby said. He drew his hand back from the plate. “The bank is closed.”
“I know,” the girl said. “That’s kind of the point.” One side of her mouth rose in a half-smile that did not reach her eyes. To Mr Appleby’s annoyance, she walked into the room.
She had long red hair, held back from her pale and freckled face with a black bone clasp. Jeans, boots, some kind of old white sweater. Her hands were stuffed deep in the side-pockets of a long brown coat. Mr Appleby had a teenage daughter, but seldom paid attention to what she wore. Still, even he could see this wasn’t the usual Cheltenham fashion.
“How did you get in?” he asked.
The girl didn’t answer. Her eyes were a curious green colour, large and dark. They regarded him levelly. She was not showing much deference, Mr Appleby thought. Not any, in fact. And she was chewing something. Gum of some kind. Her jaws working steadily. His daughter did that too. He greatly disliked the habit.
“I must insist you answer me,” he said.
The girl took a step or two towards him, past the clock, past Mr Appleby’s collection of photographs arranged on the stripy papered wall. She peered casually at the photo of his wife at the cricket club fete, the one with her in the flowery dress and the wide straw hat. “My God, they build them big out here,” she said. “No food shortages in these parts, clearly.”
The bank manager’s lips drew tight. He half rose from his chair. “Young madam, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
With unexpected speed the girl came forward. She reached the leather chair in front of the desk. It had belonged to Mr Appleby’s father, when he was manager here, and to his father before that. She swivelled it round, sat down and leaned back, her hands still in her pockets.
“Hey, it reclines,” she said, chewing. “Fancy.”
Mr Appleby returned his weight slowly to his own chair. After all, it was perhaps best not to make a scene. He ran dark fingers through the tight black curls at the crown of his head. “Well, then,” he asked. “What can I do for you?”
“Oh, I want your money,” the girl said. Her jaws made another couple of rotations. She flashed her half-smile at him. “I’m here to rob the bank.”
Mr Appleby made an involuntary sound deep in his throat. Was she mad? It was incredible how even with all the checking, the monitoring, the weeding out in childhood, a few deviants kept slipping through. The red hair and pale skin should have given the game away. Or the weird eyes should.
“Are you indeed?” he said. “Are you indeed, Miss… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“That’s because I didn’t bloody give it, did I?” the girl said. “Right, there’s a safe in the wall behind you. You’ve got sixty seconds to open it, Mr…” She glanced at the silver nameplate “…Mr Horace Appleby. Ooh, so I know your name. Isn’t it good to be able to read? Sixty seconds, Horace, starting now.”
“Maybe we can discuss this,” Mr Appleby said. “Would you take a cup of tea?”
“Don’t drink the muck.” The girl crossed her legs and checked her watch. “That’s five seconds gone and fifty-five seconds left.” She winked broadly at him. “I do maths, too.”
“A biscuit, then?” He pushed the plate towards her. With the other hand he pressed the button under the desk. Eric would handle her. Eric was calm and big and not over-nice. He did what he was told. He’d take her to the quiet courtyard at the back. Nothing to scare the horses. Just a few slaps, bruises in soft places, send her weeping on her way. He smiled at the girl. His eyes flicked towards the door. Eric didn’t appear.
“Fifty seconds,” the girl said. “If you’re waiting for that big guy stationed in the lobby, I’m afraid he won’t be coming. He’s a little … tied up right now.”
Mr Appleby blinked at her; his surprise got the better of his caution. “You tied him up?”
Now the girl did grin properly, both sides of her face scrunching up like a goblin. “Course not! The very idea!” The grin vanished. “I knocked him senseless. And if you don’t open the safe,” she added, “I’ll do the same to you.”
Mr Appleby didn’t believe her about Eric, but all the same she was there, and Eric wasn’t. He sat slowly forwards, steepled his fingers, put his elbows on the desk. There was a gun in his drawer, a nice Cheltenham-made revolver. Bought from the gunsmiths two doors down. But he’d have to get it out, fast maybe, and the drawer was stiff. “If you knock me out,” he said, keeping his voice light, “then I won’t open the safe. Will I? That’s logic, isn’t it?”
“Sure,” the girl said. “If I do it in that order. Forty seconds.”
Now that he was really looking, he could see the mud stains on her jeans and boots, the scuffs and patches on her coat, tell-tale signs of life led beyond the town. There was a peculiar leather cylinder hanging round her neck too, held in place by a dirty string. Penance box, maybe. So she was mad. Some kind of zealot. Mad and bad. He’d been misled by her youth, when she was just another filthy outlaw crept in from the Wessex Wilds.
He could do it, though. Get the gun. He’d used to shoot birds out on the flats, blast them down when the beaters blew the horns. Did it almost before they took to the air. He was older now, but he wasn’t so slow. He could do it. The question was when. He realised that his hands were shaking.
Maybe it was better to keep her talking.
Sounds good doesn't it!? Read on for my full review...
(FINAL COVER ABOVE)
Set in a future, fragmented England, featuring Wild West-style bank robbing with a cussing gunslinger, a hunted runaway with the ability to tear people limb from limb when threatened...this is like a Coen brothers movie in book form for teens - it's fabulous!
Pullman-esque (and that's a good thing!) with a powerful authority trying to control the population, mysterious powers, 'Tainted' post-apocalypse monsters, fortified villages and communities in a recognisable (but now-changed after some sort of apocalypse event) England...there is plenty of menace, action and adventure as we follow the two eponymous protagonists on their journey to seek escape and safety from their pursuers.
Nods too, to issues around religion, acceptance, power and morality add depth to the tale...it's not just thoughtless bank heists...there are definite deeper issues that could be picked from the book for discussion - themes such as: inclusion, how we treat people who are 'different', choices, loyalties etc.
It's not derivative, either, in any way...it's definitely one of the most unique books I've read for a long while, and a welcome addition to YA fiction...pupils in KS3+ will love this (definitely not primary due to the violence and themes).
It's a great story - main character Scarlett is a wonderful flawed heroine, fierce and wild but deep down good and loyal (Lyra-esque?), who helps the seemingly naive and unaware Albert Browne on his quest to live a peaceful life away from the sinister Doctor Calloway and Stonemoor, where he has escaped from.
Both characters learn more about themselves as the story progresses, alongside the reader...Scarlett that she might actually like/benefit from company, and Albert that he doesn't need to be afraid of his power and hide it.
The book is also darkly funny...the ascerbic wit, quips and sarcasm of Scarlett in contrast to the naivety and literal takes of Brown...
With cussing, action, great characters and scary thrills at points...this is a great start to what I'm hoping will be a continuing series involving these two protagonists.
Find out more at: https://www.walker.co.uk/The-Outlaws-Scarlett-and-Browne-9781406394818.aspx and by following Jonathan Stroud as @JonathanAStroud on Twitter.
Thanks again to Kirsten and Walker Books for including me in the blogtour - see what others have to say on the following dates and places:
Thank you to Rosi at Walker Books for the advance copy of the book to review (main picture at top of page), and the brilliant cussbox and gifts!
Follow Walker Books as @WalkerBooksUK on Twitter
The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne is published on April 1st 2021
Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot on Twitter and Instagram) March 2021 (updated)
Liked the review? Visit my Amazon wishlist for books for my school at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/ls/90PATPGV47DS?ref_=wl_share