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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Adventures of the Black Hand Gang (The)
by Hans Jurgen Press
Age Range: 9-11
The Adventures of the Black Hand Gang contains four independent stories: ‘The Mysterious House’, ‘The Treasure of Breezy Lake’, ‘The Smuggler’s Tunnel’ and ‘A Theft at the Zoo. The Black Hand Gang are a group of four children who form a detective organisation which has its headquarters at 49 Canal Street at the top of the house, calls their classroom the ‘Airport’ and meets regularly after school; their mission to solve crimes and track down the perpetrators.
The four children – Trumpet player Frank who is the leader of the organisation; quick-witted Angela; Ralph, who usually wears a stripped sweater and Keith W.S. (which stands for ‘with squirrel’) are accompanied by Keith’s pet squirrel who proves useful in assisting the group to solve some of the mysteries, particularly when there is a need to go to places which the children can’t normally reach.
The exciting adventures include the gang’s capture of a burglar, the unmasking of a forger, stumbling across a smuggling ring and a hunt for stolen animals. When things became a little tricky the gang enlist the help of the police, particularly their friend Police Sergeant Shorthouse.
This is a highly entertaining book by German author/illustrator Hans Jürgen Press (1926-2002). Many of his children’s books are very original in concept contained stories and puzzles in which the reader searches the illustrations for clues to the mystery. In 1953 Press began illustrating for ‘Sternchen’, the children’s supplement of the German magazine Stern and The Adventures of the Black Hand Gang appeared in weekly chapters with the solution to that week’s riddle given the following week.
Press devised a clear format whereby the reader can take part in the detective work by discovering the clues hidden throughout the pages. Each double-page spread contains text on the left-hand side with a question underneath and intricate black and white illustrations on the right-hand side with a clue concealed in the picture, while the correct answer is given on the following page. A score of the clues can be added up at the end of the book giving the reader an idea of how good a detective they are.
The skilful illustrations are full of meticulous detail in a comic strip-style format so there is plenty to look at. It will require a sharp eye and sometimes a magnifying glass as some of the clues are hidden in the most unlikely places and can be very small but young readers are sure to enjoy searching for the clues on every page. The artwork is a real treat to the eye with characters full of expression. Press was a proponent, along with Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel of the ‘Wimmelbild’ genre of illustration that was deliberately overcrowded with detail.
As the book is now out of print, a new edition would certainly be welcome although, according to Wikipedia, there is an interactive e-book game available that includes all the stories making it available to 21st century readers.