Ellen Raskin •
The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues •
Ellen Raskin has so much fun naming her characters in The Tattooed Potato that even the fast-moving plot takes a back seat.
There’s Dickory Dock, who attends art school in New York City with George Washington; her tough brother Donald will “beat up anyone who dare[s] quack at him.” Dickory takes a job cleaning brushes and answering the door for Garson, a third-rate painter with a tremor in one hand and an eccentric tendency toward disguise.
While Garson puts the finishing touches on a portrait of bubbly socialite Cookie Panzpresser, his brownstone is kept under surveillance by the plainclothes team of Dinkel, Finkel, Winkle, and Hinkle. And no wonder: The downstairs tenants are blackmailers Manny Mallomar and Shrimps Marinara—“The ugly dumpling and his mechanical man,” says Garson.
When the chief of police asks for his help, Garson dons a deerstalker hat and turns himself into Inspector Noserag (almost Garson backwards), dubbing his assistant Sergeant Kod (almost Dock backwards). Dickory soon learns about mirror images, Roy G. Biv, the fallibility of eyewitnesses, and the use of aliases.
Even snacking habits are not as innocent as they might seem: “I kept telling him not to eat so many pistachio nuts,” sobs Dickory’s sister-in-law after Donald has been arrested because of his red thumbs. But it’s Garson who ends up in prison, though Dickory is sure he’s innocent and must find the evidence to set him free.
Raskin’s verbal sleight of hand entertains effortlessly, twining nursery rhymes through the story while assembling a maze of clues and red herrings. A corpus is eventually discovered in the basement, though perhaps not the one you would expect.