Today I read Platypus Police Squad #1: The Frog Who Croaked by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, creator of the popular Lunch Lady graphic novels.
It’s a new day in Kalamazoo City, and hotshot rookie detective Rick Zengo is eager to strut his stuff on his first day with the Platypus Police Squad. He’s got a lot to live up to, as the grandson of the heroic Lieutenant Dailey who cleaned up the streets by putting away the notorious crime boss Frank Pandini many years ago. Too bad his first act as a police officer is to spill hot chocolate on his new partner, hard-nosed old-timer Corey O’Malley.
The new partners are assigned to a messy case down at the docks, involving a missing high school teacher and a duffel bag full of illegal fish. Zengo’s chief suspect? The city’s most beloved philanthropist, Frank Pandini Jr. Never mind that he has no proof, he knows that panda’s dirtier than the fish in the bag. He just needs to convince O’Malley, their sergeant, the mayor, and a town full of grateful residents that the panda giving them a free brand-new football stadium is a crook. Piece of cake, for a member of the Platypus Police Squad.
This was actually an ARC I got from the 2013 OLA Super Conference, so I’ve had it waiting on my shelves for a while (yes, my to-read list really is that big). The book was published last year, and a sequel, Platypus Police Squad 2: The Ostrich Conspiracy, has since been published as well.
The interior art isn’t final, and there are several places where it’s marked Interior Art To Come. What art is included is obviously rough drafts just sketched in, but even from that I get the sense that the final art will be interesting and really add to the book.
One thing that I would have liked to have explained a little more in the text is the nature of the animals of Kalamazoo City. The world-building feels a little weak in this respect–there was one character, the police secretary Peggy, where I didn’t understand that she’s a turtle until Zengo mentions it after her second appearance, but the joke before that about her slow movements and speech isn’t funny until you know what she is. There are all sorts of animals living in the city, from anthropomorphic platypuses, frogs, lobsters, foxes, turtles, and pandas, but it almost seems irrelevant–the story mentions it so infrequently, and the different species aren’t confined to any one profession or behaviour (other than Peggy the slow turtle, who is also presented as being very old), that the characters could just as easily be human. The only world-building is directly concerned with the plot, so it seems generic. The characters mostly seem to be animals for the sake of the art and the pun in the title. And why is it the Platypus Police Squad? The only police officers we meet are platypuses, but there’s no real reason for that presented. Why can’t a fox be a police officer, or a raccoon, or a snake? Platypuses are allowed to be things other than police officers, because Zengo’s mother and father aren’t cops, so can other animals be cops even though the name of the department is the Platypus Police Squad? Yes, maybe I’m over thinking, but still.
The book is basically trying to be middle-grade hardboiled police procedural. Illegal fish are a barely veiled substitute for drugs, especially since there’s little explanation given to how illegal fish are ‘bad’ and different from legal fish. Apparently they both make people sick, and drive honest fishermen out of business, but everybody’s doing it because eating fish is a status symbol of your wealth, but the cops don’t really care? You’ve got the mismatched partners, the incompetent braggart cops, the jovial and well-respected secret crime boss, the well-meaning teacher who gets in over his head, the older partner’s daughter dating a suspect… Suddenly I’m thinking of the Lethal Weapon series crossed with 22 Jump Street with all the swearing taken out, and let me tell you, the Lethal Weapon movies without swearing just don’t work.
Honestly, I think this book would have made a better graphic novel than a novel–I get more depth and sense of the world from the loosely sketched art than from the text. I know that this is an ARC, and not a final product, and it’s an interesting idea to do such a hardboiled mystery–there are a lot of classic mystery elements that the young reader is introduced to. But the there’s no real twists to the plot, it feels a little stale and the world-building just isn’t there. It’s a decent draft–I hope the final product was more polished.