Book name: William the Detective
Author: Richmal Crompton
Genre: Vintage children’s fiction
Publication Date: 1935
Star Rating: 5/5
If you like your vintage children’s books with a good serving of irony, as I do, then there’s every chance that the ‘Just William’ books by Richmal Crompton are for you.
William’s exploits have become famous among children and adults alike. He features in a total of thirty-nine books as well as the TV series based upon them and countless other adaptations.
The books themselves were published between 1922 and 1970. Delightfully, William remains eleven years old throughout.
In some ways, this is the best age for a boy. In other ways, it is the absolute worst. The ‘Just William’ stories encapsulate that tension to the full.
William Brown is pretty unruly but he’s full of energy and, well, somehow things just seem to work out for him and those around him.
He lives with his longsuffering parents and his brother Robert and sister Ethel. The siblings are a few years older and are presented as almost adults.
They get invited to social events, for example, that everyone agrees will get along more smoothly without William present. A garden party is a prime example.
Occasionally, the tension in William’s life is supplied by his siblings, but most of the time it comes from external factors or is self-generated.
William the Detective features seven short stories. Each is entirely self-contained, although we build up a strong sense of William’s personality and that of this family and friends through each tale.
The opening story in William the Detective is ‘William and the Campers’.
It’s summer, and a group of holidaymakers have come to a camp arranged by the Open Air Holiday Association in the village in southern England where William lives.
William’s friends are away on holiday, so he’s bored rigid. To stem the tide of this ennui, he hangs around the camp and observes the frustrations being expressed by the campers.
They hate their tents, the food, the lack of facilities. They also hate trespassers, so William is driven away.
Seeking something else to amuse him, William wanders off and stumbles upon a house with a ‘To Let’ sign.
Determined to have a new place to play to present to his pals when they return from their holidays, William goes to explore it.
He engages in a spirited face-pulling contest with a little girl inside.
She then tells William that her mother is trying to start a guest house, but they can’t find any guests.
She palms some business cards off on William and asks him to help find some customers.
It is a core feature of the ‘Just William’ stories that young boys never do good intentionally, but it can very often be achieved entirely by accident.
I loved this feature of Richmal Crompton’s work.
The adult reader leaps ahead to the meeting of the guesthouse interests with those of the unhappy campers, though of course William is oblivious to how this can be achieved.
Our hero manages it entirely accidentally, but absolutely in the manner that an eleven-year-old boy would behave.
This irony is the genius of the ‘Just William’ stories.
William the Detective features another six brilliant stories besides the one I’ve described. I loved each one, in particular the dawning realisation that complex storylines and coincidences would always produce a happy ending.
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