I love mystery stories. I think it’s because they are immune to being kitschy. It seems that the more tackier a mystery can be, the more I want it. The shady gentlemen, the clever yet unconventional detectives, the femmes fatales – I can’t get enough of them. If a mystery has these things, I will read it.
But I have a tough time writing or talking about mystery novels. I feel like I should admit that it’s a lowbrow genre. I mean you’ll never see a Noble being awarded for a series of mystery books (Right? I haven’t done my research.). But at the same time, the features that can make a highbrow novel unreadable, can make a mystery all the more enjoyable. Mysteries, in my view, can easily get away with stereotyped characters and cheesy dialogue. In any other sort of genre, thrillers included (Hi, Dan Brown!), these features will hurt the value of the writing. In mysteries, on the other hand, they are expected and encouraged, in my view at least. But on to the case!
The Fellowship of the Frog starts out with the murder of an undercover detective at the hands of the Frog, the mysterious leader of an ever increasing group of tramps. The Fellowship, so called because of the frog tattoos on the members’ hands, has become so expansive that they threaten the international affairs of England.
|The Frog sprechen the Deutsch?|
Enter Dick Gordon and Elk, the rozzers on the case of the Frog. Gordon is dashing, Elk doesn’t play by the book. Gordon wants the girl, Elk wants a promotion. In other words, they’re perfect for me. But the questions they have to answer are many:
Who is that strange American who keeps turning up at interesting places?
Who is the Frog and how can they stop him?
Is the Fellowship of the Frog really the coolest name for mystery novel? (Yes. Sweet baby Jesus, yes.)
Will Dick Gordon and Miss Bennett be able to live happily ever after?
Is Elk’s mangling of important historical dates funny way to round out his character? (Ugh, no.)
Will all of these questions be neatly wrapped up in the end? (You better believe it. The Frog is no match for my rules of good mystery writing)
I don’t see much point in running down the whole plot for you. After all, you’re either going to read the Fellowship of the Frog, or you’re going to read a mystery like it. Besides being an enjoyable read, there’s nothing about Fellowship to really set it apart from other mysteries, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. One of the things I liked best about the book was most likely due to the time it was written. Apparently, in 1920s mystery novels, a man didn’t merely sit down, he “dropped with a sigh to the Chesterfield”. Also, in Frog-ravished England, facial hair is whiskers, telephones are ‘phones, and omnibuses are ‘buses. Ah, those were the days.
Fellowship does have some short-comings, though. One of the most obvious is the way it has only two female characters – a safe, gentle one and a dangerous, provocative one. Guess which one the detective gets in the end? This two-women-only syndrome isn’t as bad as it is in the Bond films, but it’s very obvious that these women are not really characters at all. The one oohs and aahs, the other woos and wails. But I suppose novels like Fellowship weren’t really written with women in mind.
For those of you that are interested, Fellowship was made into at least one movie (as were 160 of Wallace’s other books, including King Kong). I can’t say whether the dialogue remains true, but I can leave you with some of the original.
One of my favorite lines from Fellowship comes in a character’s description of Lola, the appropriately named saucy female of the story. He says to her, “… I like you. There’s something about you that is very attractive – don’t stop me, because I’m not gong to get fresh with you, or suggest that you’re the only girl that ever made tobacco taste like molasses…” If a guy complimented you like that, girls, would you stop him?
I didn’t think so.
Up next: Eye Scream by Henry Rollin. Check it here.
The article originally appeared on Better Than Sliced Bread