This is another of the books that I remember always being on the shelf in our local library when I was growing up: right next to Moonfleet, it was, and it had a dark, rather offputting cover. I liked some of Garfield's other books (especially the retellings of Greek mythology that he wrote with Edward Blishen, for instance The God Beneath the Sea) but Jack Holborn never tempted me. And I probably wouldn't have appreciated it then as much as I do now. Pirates! Swashbuckling! A Heyeresque plot of mistaken identity and last-minute reprieves!
Jack Holborn is a foundling -- named for the London parish in which St Bride's, the church where he was found, stands -- who runs away to sea as soon as he's old enough. He picks the wrong ship: the Charming Molly is taken by pirates before Jack's even crawled out of his hiding place, and he finds himself at the mercy of a cutthroat bunch. Only the Captain is kind to him, and promises that if Jack saves his life thrice, he'll reveal the boy's true parentage. Then the Captain is grievously wounded in a fight ashore ... and a mysterious stranger, another fellow 'on the account', is picked up from the raft on which he's been set adrift by his crewmates. Solomon Temple, it seems, knows the Captain: and the Captain knows him.
Mutiny, shipwreck, pygmy-ridden jungles, a diamond named the White Lady, Arab slave-traders, and the revelation of the Captain's true name: Jack's introduction to Economic Realities, via a bag of jewels and six hundred slaves: a return to England, and an unexpected welcome: Jack taking responsibility for his actions -- he's only fourteen, but by the end of the book it's a mature fourteen -- and thereby dooming a man. And a happy ending for most of those concerned.
Garfield's style is quirky and headlong, lots of ellipses, an irreverent and conversational tone: he's not afraid to gently mock his narrator, and Jack's heroism is often unappreciated (in a way that all resentful teenagers, or anyone who's been a resentful teenager, will relate to all too well). An enjoyable read, and well-paced.