Leon Garfield 1971
We first discovered Leon Garfield through this book. The title and cover illustration caught my eye and it proved to be a very funny story with a cast of characters to rival Dickens. Madeleine read it next and loved it.
The story opens in the classroom of a boys school:
A musty, dusty, leather smell of boys, books and ink. Words drone and a family of flies stagger through the heavy air as if in pursuit of them. But they turn out to be of Ancient History so the flies blunder moodily against the parlor window beyond which the June sun ripens tempting dinners at roadsides and down the strong-smelling beach; day after day after day.
The setting is 18th century England and two boys, by playing a prank, set off an adventurous series of events. There are twists and turns and Garfield has this wonderful habit of pulling you along in the story to where you think you know how it ends, then there's a sharp turn in the narrative, a hidden alleyway you didn't see.