Sunday, July 31, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy the Detective (1932)

In this book: Freddy! And he's a detective! That was the original title; this one was never changed, but it seems that Brooks still wasn't convinced at this point that this was going to be a wholly Freddy-centric series, as the next three books all received non-standardized titles. So, then.

Well, the title kinda says it all. Freddy takes on a lot of roles over the course of the series, but “detective” is surely the most universal of these. I'm pretty sure I learned the word from this very book. There's not a lot of plot here: he decides he's going to solve cases, and he does: a few smaller and a few larger ones. It seems the rats have stolen a toy train, and are using it to steal grain unimpeded (the book doesn't make it super clear how they're unstoppable as long as they have the train, but that's the idea). The character of Simon the rat, a recurring series antagonist, makes his debut. And then there's the case of the...robbers. Boy, hard to make THAT one sound interesting. In the dramatic finale, the rats have tried to frame Jinx for murder, but Freddy, in a bravura performance, gets him off.

The book's a lot of fun, but definitely with a few weird things: you might have asked yourself, if Freddy's solving crimes, then what happens to the criminals? And, well, they set up a jail, and my immediate question is, what possible legal authority is there for this? We know from a few offhand references that these animals are definitely meant to think of themselves as Americans, so they should be using the same sort of legal system. And yet, here, there isn't even a cursory wave in the direction of consent of the governed. There's just this system we've set up, and everyone has to abide by it (though in fairness, it's not at all clear what would happen if they didn't), and Charles is going to sentence you according to god knows what criteria, and here we are. I cannot accept this.

It gets even MORE dubious, though: a problem crops up around the jail, which is that the animals therein are partying hard and having fun. So Freddy comes up with a solution for this, too: “All sentences, from now on, will be at hard labor. There'll be no more playing games and carousing; the prisoners will work all day.” And I have to VERY INTENSELY object to this. What kind of labor? And how are you going to MAKE them do it? This doesn't sound good, man. This really does not sound good at all. But this is near the end of the book, so we don't get to see how it works out in practice at all.

Remember how I was talking about the sort of weird tension in this series regarding the killing of animals? Well, that continues here, and in a fairly striking way. This paragraph will feature spoilers for the final case. This ain't Phoenix Wright; I can't spoil it that much. But anyway, as I noted, Jinx has been framed for the murder of a crow, whose remains he was found with. Only then it turns out that actually, it's just a chicken that the rats did up to look like a crow. Charles finds this horrifying, but it gets Jinx off the hook. So now we've established an unspoken rule that killing crows is just bad tout court, but, even though at least the chickens recognize that killing a chicken is equally horrific...I guess everyone just accepts that the vast majority of humans do it? What? This is absolutely insane.

Remember the children that the animals rescued in North Pole? Well, you sure won't find them in this book. That toy train that the rats steal? It is Everett's train, we are told, and that is the only time they're even alluded to. Weird, man. This does mention most although not all of the animals it had introduced last time; I'm afraid Armando and Juanita the alligators are gone forever, but we've got Ferdinand and Cecil and Bill, who are at least mentioned by name, though I can't imagine that these marginal characters will persist. Also, it's really funny to me how Brooks always gives his animals these intensely banal, white-bread-ass sounding names. Ya coulda worked on that a little more, fella!

In fairness, I have to admit that there are a few moments in this books which flat-out suck. Like, after Freddy has written an advertisement for their new firm, asserting that they have had “not a loss to a client in more than a century.”

Mrs. Wiggins objected at first to the last sentence. “We haven't been in business but a week,” she said.

“What difference does that make?” said Freddy. “It's true, isn't it?”

She had to admit that it was. “But, don't you see, it sounds as if we'd been detectives for a long time.”

“That's just the way I want it to sound,” replied the pig.

So Mrs. Wiggins didn't say any more.

And it's very clear that we're supposed to be impressed by Freddy's “cleverness,” and not grossed out by his smarmy sophistry. Guess how well that works?

This one's a bit longer:

“All these sentimental animals that come to visit the jail and feel sorry for the prisoners and want to do things for them. After all, they're there to be punished, not to have a good time. And we treat 'em well. There's no reason to cry over them . . . why, what are you getting so red for?” he demanded suddenly. For a blush had overspread Mrs. Wiggins's large face.


Her flush deepened as Freddy spoke. “Why, I—now that you speak of it,” she stammered, “I see that you're right, but—well, Freddy—land's sakes, I might as well confess it to you—I got to feeling sorry for those prisoners myself yesterday, especially those two goats. It seemed such a pity they couldn't be jumping round on the hills instead of sweltering in that hot barn. And I went and got them a nice bunch of thistles for their supper.”

Freddy frowned. “That's just it! Sentimentality, that's what's going to ruin our jail. I did think, Mrs. W., that you had more sense!”

The cow looked a little angry. “If I knew what you were talking about, she said stiffly, “perhaps I might agree with you.”

“Being sentimental?” said Freddy. I'll tell you what it is. It's going round looking for someone or something to cry over, just for the fun of crying. You knew you weren't doing those goats any good. You just wanted to have a good time feeling sorry.”

The nice thing about Mrs. Wiggins was that she always admitted it when she was wrong. She did so now after she had thought it over for a few minutes. “I guess you're right, Freddy,” she said. “I won't do it again.”

Seriously. What the hell. For whatever reason, Walter R. Brooks appears to have an axe in need of some serious grinding. It's not that he doesn't have the germ of a point here; you always hear about women writing love letters to serial killers in prison and like that. But also, fuck that noise: he's just denying that normal human empathy is understandable or desirable, and looking like a total sociopath. Tough on crime rhetoric never makes for a good look.

In fairness to Brooks, I should note that in later books, there's this thing where there's a jail in Centerboro where the sheriff is soft-hearted and all the prisoners, who are really just swell guys, have fun all day, which seems to have developed from the idea of the prisoners here having fun, and which comes across as much more humane. I can't really put a label on Brooks' politics based on these books, at least so far. Perhaps the tension adds to the interest.

Anyway, I really did like this, in spite of my complaints, so let's have a few more quotes to end on. Here's a good stereotype:

There were even a few sheep, and if you know anything about sheep, you will realize how much interest the proposal for a jail had created, for there is nothing harder than to interest sheep in matters of public policy.

And here's Brooks getting all meta on us:

If you are interested in reading [Charles' speech], it will be possible to get a copy, for Freddy later wrote out an account of the trial on his typewriter, with all the speeches in full, which is kept with other documents in the Bean Archives, neatly labeled “The State vs. Jinx,” where I have seen it myself.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

So... It's like "Animal Farm" for kids, only the power abusing authoritarian pig is our postive protagonist here?

What strikes me most here is their curious definition of "Sentimentality"... Man that sounds like something Scrooge [either one realy] would say during Christmas, and feels like a line in anyother book would been said by a character who is ment to be a grouch of some kind and the target readers [the childreen] and ment to disagree with him. But if here it's ment to be some voice of wisdom... um, I don't know. Aren't you sure this isn't ment as some "Ho, ho, silly animals misinterpretating human world"?

10:19 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Perhaps if insted of "forcing" them Freddie would OFFER to cut the rats sentence in half in exchange for them doing some hard work on the farm and that would be a healty compromise. And one prisoner would refuse and would be alone in prison while others are out there working or being free already and it would be sad and lonely and the kids reading the book would be like "I don't want to be like that guy! If I ever going to prison I will work hard to pay my debt to society like a good citizen!"

I can't advocate in good conscience for force labor, even in Freddies hiperbolic world but I can at least understand his frustration and see where he is comming from. He just went to far in puting his own sadistic wants over what is actualy good for the prisoners.

10:39 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home