Best known for his zingy Fletch mysteries, Mcdonald now offers a different sort of sprightly bagatelle: the adventures of an...



Best known for his zingy Fletch mysteries, Mcdonald now offers a different sort of sprightly bagatelle: the adventures of an eight-year-old English lad in early-1940s Manhattan--sketched in with a blithe mixture of Runyonesque drollery and Boy's Own action. Robert James Saint Burnes Walter Farhall-Pladroman--Robby Burnes to his chums--is suddenly orphaned when his pater (a duke) and mater and nanny are annihilated by one of Hitler's bombs. Who, then, will take charge of wee, family-less dukelet Robby? The only answer: N.Y.C. reporter Thadeus Lowry, the late Duke's old chum from the Great War. Thus, after a miserable transatlantic voyage, Robby finds himself in the boozy company of eccentric Lowry (part William Powell, part Robert Benchley)--who hardly feeds the ever-hungry lad. . .and sends him out to find ""the local piss"" (P.S.) on his own. (""The trick is. . .to leave the apartment in the morning and walk around the blocks in ever widening squares until you find a school."") Does Robby find a school? Of course not. Instead, he promptly gets kidnapped by pathetic Marie Savallo and her wheelchair-bound husband Frankie--who, with help from Marie's brother Bill (a cheerfully corrupt cop), hatch a ransom scheme. Meanwhile, however, plucky Robby manages to escape--and has the misfortune to witness a murder by Frankie's brother Tony (a mob hit-man). So the second half of this brief entertainment follows Robby as he flees from the murderous, ubiquitous Tony Savallo--from Park Avenue to Harlem, from slimy plutocrats to the warm, folksy embrace of sassy foster-mother Mrs. Clearwater. (""You're here, li'l bo' weevil. I'm America. Lordy Lord, I got black blood in me, and white blood, and yellow blood, and red-Indian blood, all in me. You're in the lap of America, bo' weevil."") Mcdonald's comic touch is less than fully secure here: some of the social satire (e.g., services at the Church of Jesus Christ Materialist) is overdone; a few of the running gags (Robby's hunger, lots of dialect shtick) wear thin. And Robby--variously naive, ironic, and stiff-upper-ipped--is a totally unlifelike eight-year-old. Still, with zesty dollops of Front Page cynicism and Dickensian sentiment, this is a genial tongue-in-cheek diversion--more for nostalgia buffs (and perhaps a YA readership) than for serious suspense fans.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1985


Page Count: -

Publisher: Penzler/Mysterious Press--dist. by Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1985