The Otterbury Incident


The Otterbury Incident

by C. Day Lewis

illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

Age: 10+

Interests: mystery, crime, kid detectives, England, action, some violence, school, bad behaviour, money

Putnam: 1948

187 pp. – 11 chapters

Also by this author: Dick Willoughby

Next: Emil and the Detectives, War Boy: A Country Childhood, Boy: Tales of Childhood

A schoolboy crime mystery set in post-WWII England. After a particularly raucous recess war-game between two gangs of boys, one of them accidentally kicks a football through a school window. The two gangs unite to help the poor lad come up with the five pounds necessary to fix the window. ‘Operation Glazier’ involves everything from busking to shining shoes and after much hard work the necessary funds are raised – only to disappear again under mysterious circumstances. A little detective work leads the boys to the thieves. Determined to bring them in on their own, the boys break into their hideout, only to discover that their petty thieves are not-so-petty black marketeers and counterfeiters. After a pitched and rather dangerous battle, the criminals are finally apprehended and handed over to the police.

Along the same vein as yesterday’s post – Emil and the Detectives – this book is for slightly older readers, as the situations are actually pretty dangerous. One boy is threatened with a straight razor, another boy is knocked unconscious, and bricks and air-gun pellets fill the air.

The allure of this book is similar to Emil: it is a glowing account of the resourcefulness, generosity and bravery of its young heroes. Children work together to solve their own problems; adults are regarded as nuisances who’ll only ‘muck things up’. The boys organize themselves on a military model – echoes here of the recently ended war – and do some seriously clever sleuthing. As with any story about gangs of children, steadfast loyalty to one’s friends is modelled as the highest virtue.

Written by the esteemed poet C. Day Lewis, this is regarded as one of the gems of postwar boy adventure books. It careens along, full of suspense, action, and a wee bit of violence to keep everyone on their toes. The story is told by one of the participants, and the breathless narration is certainly true to a young boy’s point of view. As unadorned as the writing is, the only difficulties for modern readers may lie in period details and the schoolboy slang of the time.

My edition has illustrations by the wonderful Edward Ardizzone (Tim All Alone, The Little Bookroom) – see below.

P.S. The author wrote only two books for children, the other being Dick Willoughby (1933). Day Lewis was appointed Britain’s Poet Laureate in 1968, and died in 1972. He was also, I might add, the father of actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

(this title available at




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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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