CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 31. . . .April 15, 2016
The Adventure of Leonard Broadus.
Frederick Philip Grove.
Oakville, ON: Rock’s Mills Press, 2015.
163 pp., trade pbk., $14.95.
Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.
Review by Ruth Latta.
Never before had he seen the creek so high, not even in the first days of thawing weather in spring... Suddenly he thought of his raft...He had provisionally tied the craft with a length of what he called Eaton-string, the sort of hemp cord with which that mail order house tied large parcels for shipping. It was good, stout string, but would it withstand the raging pull of that central current?...
Under the impact of his leap, the craft swung crazily out into mid-current... The cord, snapping under the full and suddenly-applied force of that current, and the increased weight of the raft, the boy nearly losing his balance in the jerk, released the craft which promptly went careering down the stream...
On and on he was swept...So long as he stayed on the raft there was no immediate danger... Once or twice he did touch the bank...A jump he could not risk without danger of slipping back into the current.
In publishing Frederick Philip Grove's The Adventure of Leonard Broadus, Rock's Mills Press has brought to light a boys' adventure novel that some will regard as a Canadian classic. Grove, well-known as an author of serious fiction in the 1920s and '30s, hoped to have this young adult novel published, under a pseudonym, to tie in with the 1939 royal visit. This plan did not work out. The novel was eventually published in the 1940s as a (heavily edited) serial in a United Church youth magazine. The new version in book form is from the original typescript owned by F.P.Grove's son, Leonard.
"Leonard" is also the name of the 13-year-old central character. Growing up on a farm in southwestern Ontario (near Simcoe) with his seven-year-old sister and his parents, Leonard Broadus spends his time practising the piano and working on a raft he and his father are building near their creek.
One Saturday evening, when his parents return from shopping and seeing a "picture show" in town, they find every light blazing. The maid is tied up and gagged. The children are seemingly asleep on a chesterfield in the living room, as is their custom when the parents are out at night. The family silver, wall safe and jewellery have been taken.
The children faked sleep so as not to be hurt, and were ignored by the robbers during their 15 minutes in the house. Leonard, however, peeked out from the blankets and saw one of the thieves whose mask had slipped. The Ontario Provincial Police are summoned and decide that Leonard must come with them to London, ON. The captain tells Leonard's parents that the O.P.P. will round up all known gangsters in Toronto, Hamilton and London to see if Leonard can pick out the red-haired man whom he glimpsed. Leonard's father agrees to let him go with Captain Vance to "look them over." On first reading this passage, I assumed that they were taking Leonard to look at mug shots.
Cop-show fans know that a line-up usually consists of five or six people, one being the suspect; the others, officers in plain clothes. The person who trying to identify the suspect looks at the line-up through a one-way mirror. For his own protection, he never meets those in the line-up face-to-face. In Grove's novel, however, Leonard is brought into a room with over one hundred suspects. Leonard doesn't recognize the red-haired man, but all the suspects get a good look at him.
Are the police using 13-year-old Leonard as a decoy? It seems like it, particularly when the captain, on the drive home, admits that they are "dodging possible pursuers", and adds:
"My dear boy, you are now known by sight to hundreds of people. Most of them had been arrested for the sole purpose of being looked over by you. You may be sure they looked you over... They have long since guessed that at least one of their men was seen at one of the jobs... Wouldn't it be a great thing for them if, before you could do your worst, they got to you?"
Although law and policing in 1939 is not my area of expertise, I wonder if the round-up of so many suspects was strictly legal, and if using a minor as a decoy was, at the least, questionable practice, and, at worst, a violation of a child's rights. Was Grove, like some mystery writers, depicting cops as "dumb" to make his amateur sleuth shine? It doesn't appear so. Although Leonard is instrumental in solving the case, the police also play a big role and come off well in the chase and capture scenes. Perhaps Grove should have more thoroughly researched police practices in conducting investigations.
Leonard's adventures include a wild ride on a raft and a visit to a hobo camp at a falling-down house in the woods. The hobo camp scene reminds readers that the Great Depression was by no means over in 1939. After seeing the transients' living conditions, Leonard remarks that: "In future, he would not again have the heart to look down on the 'bums' of the road."
While some readers may consider the story "old fashioned", others may regard it as an historical novel that captures an era. "New" technologies, like pontoon planes and amateur radio sets, come into the tale. When Leonard meets King George VI and Queen Elizabeth face to face, he feels a surge of patriotism typical of the era. Indeed, the purpose of the royal visit was to cement the ties of Empire and stir pro-British sentiment prior to the looming war.
The preface provides information about the author which is as fascinating as his fictional creation. Frederick Philip Grove (1871-1948) won the Governor General's Literary Award for his autobiography, In Search of Myself (1946), about his European past. In 1973, Queen's University English professor Douglas Spettigue exposed this autobiography as an invention. He proved that Grove was born Felix Paul Grove in East Prussia and was a convicted felon who faked his suicide in 1909 to escape his creditors and in 1912 turned up in Manitoba as Frederick Philip Grove. Grove taught school, married (bigamously) and found literary success in Canada. The preface includes the titles of four books about Grove's colourful early life in Europe. In The Adventure of Leonard Broadus, however, there are no hints of complicated European past; rather, the reader time-travels into a Canadian boy's life 77 years ago.
Ruth Latta is an author who lives in Ottawa, ON. For information on Ruth Latta's novels, visit http://ruthlattabooks.blogspot.com
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