Thank you to Fuse #8 for the recommendation on Leon Garfield.
This children's book is set in Regency England (hey, my favorite time period) and relates the adventures of a diverse group of individuals variously connected with Dr. Bunnion's school for young gentlemen. Mr. Brett, a timid soul, inspires two of his students with his stories of the Ancients. Specifically, the Ancients' practice of exposing infants on the hillside.
Conveniently enough, one of the young hoodlums is in possession of an extraneous younger sister, just seven weeks of age. Harris and Bostock hope to observe a wolf discovering and suckling the infant and make a big splash in the scientific community. They take Adelaide up to the moors, deposit her carefully in a grassy hollow, and wait for their fortunes to become assurred.
Unforseen events intervene! Lovely Tizzy Alexander, the daughter of the maths teacher, is walking with the schoolmaster's son, and stumbles across poor Adelaide before she can be succoured by a wild animal. But when the helpless babe is returned to the school, her father is more interested in learning why she was walking alone with noted tom-catter-about-town Mr. Ralph Bunnion! A challenge is issued! How will Harris and Bostock retrieve Adelaide from the poorhouse? How will Major Alexander avoid becoming a murderer, or becoming dead? Will Mr. Brett gain the love of the worthy Tizzy? Tune in to your local library to find out!
There are a number of adult themes: drunkenness, hints of intended sexual violence, adultery, and more. There's an underlyingly grim tone that's very reminiscent of Lemony Snicket's work. Given that Adelaide was originally published in 1971, I think he must have been a major influence. There are dark dealings here! Every character except the poor Mr. Brett seems to have ulterior motives.
The voice is absolutely delightful. It made me chuckle aloud more than once.
I don't know how I feel about this book. It's good, very good. But weird in some way that prevented me from wholeheartedly enjoying it.