The Return of the Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald, was published in 1974 by Dial.
Tom Fitzgerald, alias The Great Brain, is back, struggling to stay reformed now that his friends have threatened to ostracize him if he pulls even one more swindle. But his brother J.D. knows the new Tom is too good to be true, and as a reformed Great Brain makes for a dull life, J.D. isn’t exactly unhappy—or blameless—when his brother’s money-loving heart stealthily returns to business as usual. Under the watchful eyes of parents and friends, Tom has to be craftier than ever, and indeed he is. Whether he’s cleverly pulling an out-and-out swindle so as to not be caught or solving a train robbery and murder, Tom’s Great Brain never fails.
Six books in, the Great Brain series is starting to wear a little thin. Even Fitzgerald seems to be struggling, as The Return of the Great Brain is a little lackluster and repetitive. We have the same Tom shenanigans, the same J.D. who constantly is getting guilt-tripped by Tom and is easily tricked by him, and even some of the same sort of non-swindling events that have happened in previous books.
I will say, it was nice to see that for the most part, Tom actually does things that aren’t necessarily considered swindles. The threat from the last book of the kids refusing to talk to him is still very real. He makes lots of money, sure, but he does it honestly—minus one or two things he does that are a bit eyebrow-raising. It’s a good reminder that Tom is actually quite smart and could be very successful if he can stop conning people into giving him things.
Besides Tom’s swindles/half-swindles/games, there are a few other things that happen that once again serve as a vehicle to show off Tom’s intelligence. He helps start a school, thwart a train robbery, and saves a boy’s life. Fitzgerald does include one amusing incident that neither Tom nor any of the other boys can solve or understand: romance.
I liked the glimpse of “honest Tom” that we got in The Return of the Great Brain, but the formula is starting to get too repetitive and boring for me. I like that Fitzgerald is able to come up with new things every book, but he also reuses a lot of things, such as J.D.’s gullibleness, and is pretty repetitive in terms of writing. I’m glad there are only two books left, because I don’t want to get as tired of this series as I did another repetitive series (Redwall).
Recommended Age Range: 8+
Genre: Historical Fiction, Children’s
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