Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case

by Mordecai Richler, Michael D. Chesworth,
152 pages,
ISBN: 0374336598

Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case

144 pages,
ISBN: 0771074723

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Two-Two's Apprenticeship
by Howard Engel

Perfectly Loathsome Leo Louse is always playing nasty tricks on Jacob Two-Two because, in his distorted view, the kid is a born trouble-maker. Jacob's next-door neighbour, the master spy X. Barnaby Dinglebat, is helping Jacob pay Leo back. Loathsome Leo is also the food supplier at Privilege House, Jacob's expensive private school, where the high tuition alone is enough to deafen parents to their kids' complaints against the garbage Leo Louse provides. The school encourages parents to believe that the worse the meals, the better the school. I. M. Greedyguts, the dreaded new headmaster, also has ticked Jacob off as a trouble-maker.
Jacob Two-Two is now a twenty-year-old phenomenon. In his two earlier adventures, with the Hooded Fang and with the dinosaur, he has led his creator a merry chase from Kingston Hill in Surrey to Montreal, and through adventures suitably challenging to all concerned. Aided and abetted sometimes by his older siblings, Emma and Marfa, Daniel and Noah, but mostly ignored by them, Jacob sets out to settle scores with Perfectly Loathsome Leo, his geography teacher, Miss Sour Pickle, and the ambitious headmaster, Mr. Greedyguts. Using the crafts of disguise and subterfuge, taught by the master spy Dinglebat (who can't get anyone to buy a Canadian military secret from him), Jacob perseveres, wins out, and triumphs by the last page, savouring his revenges and giving the reader much gratification.
Jacob is a second-generation Richler hero. He may be made from the same all too human stuff as Duddy Kravitz, Jake Hersh, Joshua Shapiro, and Solomon Gursky, minus their feet of clay. But he wasn't shaped by St. Urbain Street. In his normal life, nothing but the atavistic craving for corned beef will take him near Fletcher's Field, Baron Byng High School, or the old neighbourhood. Still, he has troubles enough growing up in the busy house of a writer, who keeps his past alive in a weekly poker game with the friends of his youth.
It is not every serious novelist who can successfully turn out material for children. It suggests that the creative arteries are still unclogged with sludge, the imagination is up to short hops as well as long hauls, and that hardening of the ego is well under control. This wonderfully funny and cunning tale was devised with two audiences in mind: the parents and their bewildering offspring. It is the trick of the clever writer of children's stories to engage both parent-reader and child-listener in his lines. The humour and the passion of the adventure are snapped up by the one, while the other catches the sly social comment and satire. Each will pull different but equally savoury morsels from this satisfying story. It scratches you where you itch.

Howard Engel is the father of another Jacob. His most recent book is Getting Away with Murder, a Benny Cooperman mystery, from Penguin. Next spring, Key Porter will publish his Behold the Lord High Executioner, a work of history.


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