Dirty Fred, the Captain by Jenő Rejtő

Series: Dirty Fred #2 (can be read as a stand alone)Genre: humor, adventure, mystery
Date of Publishing: 1940Publisher: Albatrosz Könyvek

Blurb

Dirty Fred, the lost battleship’s infamous captain, shows a different side in this novel: the side of a soft hearted father, who does everything he can to help his son, into the royal seat. We also meet Smiley Jimmy, who, although an old adversary of Dirty Fred’s, this time as a writer and as a substitute successor prince, plays into the hands of Dirty Fred, although he is only looking for his favourite shell-handled knife, which he always leaves in someone by accident.

Disclaimer/Personal Note

Jenő Rejtő is one of the most interesting figures in Hungarian Literature. He wrote several aventure novels in his own way, parodising the popular books in his time. Dirty Fred, the captain and Smiley Jimmy are probably among his most known characters in Hungary. Though the Dirty Fred series is a trilogy, the books can be read as stand alones. Dirty Fred, the Captain is the only book I’ve read from Rejtő yet, but surely not the last. When a couple of weeks ago we were going through our books, I’ve found we had some of his paperbacks and I just felt this urge to reread this book. Partly because it’s available in English so I can make you all give it a go 😛

I also put this book on my Armed with a Book bingo card, under the ‘A book by a Hungarian author‘ square.

P.S. I have not read the English version, but according to some reviewers, they made a good job with it. It also seems like it was published in English by the translator herself.

Song of the Book

I decided to pair with Dirty Fred, the Captain with my favourite Hungarian band. It’s not quite the perfect match, but it’s all about keeping secrets, so I think it’ll do.

Review

After a bar fight, Smiley Jimmy finds himself to be employed as a stoker and waiter on the Honolulu Star. A luxury ship sailing around the world. He only has to stay for one leg of the journey, and things are going well, until strange things start happening and one of the passangers is found dead. Jimmy finds himself in the thick of the mess and agrees to switch places with a gentleman called Mr Irving. But in this story is nothing as it seems, and Jimy has to use his wit and uncanny abilities to always find trouble to save his own neck as well as others’.

Man, it’s hard to talk about Dirty Fred, the Captain without revealing too much about the plot. For a really short book (just shy of 300 pages) it sure has a lot packed into it. The plot itself is not too complicated, though has a fair number of twists. The real strength of this book is its characters and Rejtő‘s way of parodising situations and clichés in a way that it becomes hilarious rather than cringy. He knows the right line between funny and overdone and walks it like an experienced tight rope walker.

His writing style is pretty minimalist, there are no lengthy descriptions or flowing prose. And still, his characters nearly walk off the page because even if he is using broad strokes and plain language, his characterisation is pitch perfect. Especially Smiley Jimmy’s who is the main protagonist in this book. I’m not sure how the English translation turned out, but the chapters written “by his hand” shows the real genius of Rejtő. The way he misuses words and gives different names to people, the easy way he plays with the Hungarian language. There were more than one occasions where I kept giggling for minutes after a word or two.

And of course we have Dirty Fred, who is more of a side character here, or let’s say he mostly stays in the background but it’s true for him too, that there is more than meets the eye. Though you better stay out of his way. Just to be safe. And make sure to check all your valuables. But I really, really can’t say more without spoiling things. What I can say is though, is that I loved the way the criminal society resembles and turns the real world society inside out. Brilliant.

All being said, if you are looking for a few hours of lighthearted fun without needing to think too much, I definitely recommend checking Dirty Fred, the Captain out! A Hungarian classic which I hope will steal your heart as well. Hopefully not literally. You can just never know with these guys.

Our Judgement

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