The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel - Deborah Hopkinson


Eel has troubles of his own: As an orphan and a "mudlark," he spends his days in the filthy River Thames, searching for bits of things to sell. He's being hunted by Fisheye Bill Tyler, and a nastier man never walked the streets of London. And he's got a secret that costs him four precious shillings a week to keep safe. 

But even for Eel, things aren't so bad until that fateful August day in 1854—the day the Great Trouble begins. Mr. Griggs, the tailor, is the first to get sick, and soon it's clear that the deadly cholera—the "blue death"—has come to Broad Street. 

Everyone believes that cholera is spread through poisonous air. But one man, Dr. John Snow, has a different theory. As the epidemic surges, it's up to Eel and his best friend Florrie to gather evidence to prove Snow's theory before the entire neighborhood is wiped out.

Part medical mystery, part survival story, and part Dickensian adventure, Deborah Hopkinson's The Great Trouble is a celebration of a fascinating pioneer in public health and a gripping novel about the 1854 London cholera epidemic.


I am not usually a big reader of historical fiction, but I am so glad that I decided to listen to this one. Eel is a fantastic main character - a sweet young man working as hard as he can to take care of a younger brother and make a better life for himself. The problem? Not everyone is as honest as Eel. When Eel is accused of theft, he is forced to leave his steady job. Amazingly, one of the worst disasters in London gives Eel the best opportunity of his life.


When Cholera strikes the Soho district the people are under the common assumption that the miasma was the cause - meaning that the filthy air they breathed was the cause of the sickness. 


Take a look at this poster and some of the warnings it gives the people of London.

Eel watches the people around him fall ill and die. He finds himself working as the assistant to Dr. John Snow, a doctor who doesn't believe in the Miasma theory. Instead he believes the cholera is being spread by drinking contaminated water from the Broadstreet Pump.


This is the Broadstreet Pump with the handle broken off. In the background is a pub called The John Snow.

The town council doesn't believe Dr. Snow's theory and want proof before they will agree to take the handle off of the pump. They give Dr. Snow only a few days to gather the information he needs to prove the water is causing the deaths. Eel is a great help. He knows the people in the community and is trusted more than Dr. Snow.


This is a portion of Dr. Snow's original map. You can see the Pump labeled in the middle. Each black bar represents a death. See this linked article below the red box for some interesting information about this event. It turns out the pump was in the wrong location in this original map. Also, Dr. Snow's time in Soho was short because of other research he was doing. Rev. Whitehead is the one that discovered the actual cause of the outbreak.


Deborah Hopkinson has taken actual events from this terrible time in history and created a very interesting teen and tween novel. I feel like I learned so much while listening to this book.