Adult private eye fans have Albert Samson, kids have the McGurk organisation. It's that simple. Jack P. McGurk, a ten year old obsessed with detective comics, organises his motley crew of misfit friends into a detective agency, THE McGURK ORGANISATION. The anonymous middle-class suburb where they live is spectacularly free of Nazi spies, bootleggers, or homicidal maniacs, so the group have to improvise. However, they rapidly discover that normal life always has problems which need a detective's skills to solve.
Jack P. McGurk: stocky, freckled, wildly red-haired and overflowing with energy. A natural leader with the soul of a poet. Not quite as clever as he thinks he is, but then again he thinks he's a unique genius. His mind works in death-defying leaps which are as likely to be spectacularly wrong as spectacularly right. Remembers only the latter occasions.
Joey: McGurk's best friend and exact opposite. Small, slight, dark and bespectacled. The sort of boy who keeps his pencils exactly parallel at the edge of the desk. The perfect foil for McGurk: keeps him out of trouble with those too big to challenge and keeps his feet on the ground. The narrator of all the books.
Willy the Nose: a heron-like figure. Tall and skinny, with a shock of black hair and a beak-like nose. Shy and self-deprecating, but worth much more than he thinks. His freakish nose has sensory powers to match its size, and while he thinks he's stupid, his mind is really just slow-grinding - sometimes it seizes on a piece of evidence others have missed.
Wanda: the only girl in the group, who burst in by sheer force of personality. Tall, blonde, and amazonic, Wanda is actually the most combative and physically powerful member of the group. Wanda has a kind heart, and tends to end up providing a sympathetic ear - not always to her pleasure.
Brains: the local nerd. Joined the group because following the events of "The Invisible Dog" they decided he was best where they could keep an eye on him. Small, blonde and owlishly spectacled, Brains is obsessed with electronics. Unfortunately for him, he's born a few years too early to grow up with computers, although in his teens he probably will build one. Once you get past the unworldly exterior, he's an eerily normal person. Determined to keep things on a logical basis, and often unhappy with McGurk's hunches.
Mari Yoshimura: the title character in The Case of the Vanishing Ventriloquist (1985), who joined after the events in that book. She's their resident expert on sound and voices and often serbes as a human lie detector.
What makes the McGurk organisation so unique is the sheer normality of the events they investigate. Hildick, in all his books for children, realises how a child sees deep meaning in events that seem trivial to an adult. And in their way, dealing with minor thefts, incidents of bullying, and unjust accusations by parents and teachers, the McGurk organisation do a great deal to improve the world around them. Your kid sister's baby doll goes missing, leaving her heartbroken? Your pet cat is accused of killing the neighbours' homing pigeons? Your brother is accused of vandalising garden ornaments? Call McGurk.
One more book has to be described.. In The Secret Scribbler (1978) the McGurkgroup encounters adult crime for the first and only time, when they stumble across evidence that the local jeweller is plotting to have his own shop robbed (for insurance, naturally). McGurk and friends show genuine caution and care for self-preservation in evidence gathering, using near-armchair detective techniques. Far more estimable than the usual let's-break-into-the-robbers-hideout-what-spiffing-fun attitude. These are real kids, and they don't have a major-character get out clause.
What's in it for adults? The resonances. The 87th Precinct books are clearly referred to in the low-key plots, group emphasis, and illustrations of evidence scatterred through the books. McGurk's dealings with older boys, when necessary, bring to mind Philip Marlowe confronting the men from Bay City, hoping they'll give him what he wants without asking too high a price. And The Case of The Phantom Frog's ramshackle plotline, with the fivesome babysitting a mysterious Transylvanian boy, is largely an excuse for an extended pastiche of John Dickson Carr's supernatural-crime books.
Where are they now? Brains has probably moved across the Atlantic for a job with Apple. Willy is having a few beers with the boys after a hard day's work. Joey is sitting in an office working on an ulcer. Wanda is in the local ladies' running club. And McGurk? Probably sitting in front of his word-processor, working on the latest in a series of thinly-fictionalised books about his childhood...
BY THE WAY...
Got a comment on this site? Drop me a line, and we'll talk.