Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, September 7, 2018


Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin (1975)

Jay Williams (1914-1978) wrote over 100 books, mostly for children.  He also wrote mysteries under the name "Michael Delving" and a few adult novels.  He is known for his fifteen books series about Danny Dunn, a young (most likely pre-teen), impetuous boy with a decided talent for science, written with screenwriter Raymond Abrashkin (1911-1960).  The series began in 1956.  Abrashkin died shortly after the fifth book was published and Williams insisted he remain credited on the remaining ten books in the series.  Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective was the penultimate book in the series.

Danny and his widowed mother live with Professor Euclid Bullfinch, a well-known scientific researcher and inventor, for whom Danny's mother is housekeeper.  Bullfinch serve as Danny's mentor and -- perhaps -- surrogate father.  Danny's best friends are Joe Pearson and Irene Miller.  Joe is the easy-going member of the trio, providing comic relief with his sharp wit.  Joe also knows nothing about science; his interests lie in writing, most often in humorous poems.  Irene, Danny's next door neighbor, is one of the first female characters in children's series books to be an equal to the protagonist.  Irene is interested in science and math.  Irene's intelligence and scientific knowledge is at least on a par with Danny's and may well be superior.  Irene is also plucky.  From an age of sexist stereotypes in most children's fiction, Irene is is a breath of fresh air.

Danny, as I have mentioned is impetuous.  His rash actions often propel the story.  In the end, when Danny allows his logic to overcome his first instincts, things turn out well.

The Danny Dunn series is a mixture of science fiction and adventure.  Danny's adventures (and inventions) range from the extreme (time travel, antigravity, miniaturization, weather control, invisibility) to the mundane (robotics, fossils, crime, travel).  Each book relies on a real scientific basis or scientific extrapolation.  The back and forth swaying between science fiction and adventure weakens the series which nonetheless remained very popular among its young audience.

Danny Dunn, Scientific Detective begins with Danny and his friends conducting a ghost hunt in a deserted house.  Their experiments are stopped by a police detective, Mr. Ellison.  Ellison is large, black, intelligent, and is soon aware of the unique qualities of these three youngsters.  Like Irene, Ellison runs counter to many of the stereotypes of the day.  Ellison gives Danny the idea of being a "scientific detective," using reason and logic to solve crime.

Seguing to the main plot, the manager of the town's oldest and most successful department store wants Professor Bullfinch to build a foolproof safe for the store.  Bullfinch comes up with a safe that will only open by the individual scent of the store manager and his assistant.  Shortly after the safe is installed Bullfinch travels to Washington for a conference.  While he is gone the store manager goes missing.  A few days later the safe is robbed.  A check with Washington shows that the Professor never arrived at his hotel.  Police begin to thin that the Professor may have something to do with the mysterious disappearance of the store manager and the robbery.  Danny and his friends are determined to clear Bullfinch's name and to solve the various mysteries.

After several embarrassing false starts, Danny and Irene build Bleeper, a robot bloodhound, using an old canister vacuum cleaner and Professor Bullfinch's scent detecting technology, in an attempt to find the missing store manager.  Eventually Danny's scientific detecting solves the case.

I have to mention the weakest, most execrable part of the book, being the depiction of a college student/hippie using outmoded and the jarringly passe language of a beatnik a quarter of a century earlier, you dig?  This passage made me want to throw the book down in disgust.

I didn't. 

And the book, in total, is not bad.  The Danny Dunn series has some strong, very entertaining books and this book is one of the lesser ones.


  1. I remembered these, and was very happy to find a Jay Williams story in one of the Robert Mills BEST FROM F&SFs I FFB'd recently...

  2. And, squaresville, daddy-o, with the Maynard G. Krebbsing.

  3. I read the Danny Dunn series and enjoyed most of the adventures. Danny Dunn seemed like a training bra for Tom Swift books.

  4. I've not heard of these before, so for me, at least, they are beyond forgotten, as in never known. Are they supposed to be set in the book's publication year as current times? Or are they all set in the late 1950s, in which case the beat language wouldn't be so out of place.

  5. Haven't heard of these. Wish I were a younger hepcat. I was trying to remember Tom Swift when I came to George's comment. Maybe Tom, Joe (Hardy) and Nancy?