cover image The Blunder of the Rogues

The Blunder of the Rogues

Tim Egan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $15 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-395-91007-8

Egan, who honed his hard-boiled voice in Friday Night at Hodges' Cafe and Chestnut Cove, forays into tough-guy turf with this story of four decent fellows gone wrong. The suitably noir setting, subtly rendered in watercolor and ink, is a coastal town of quaint brick buildings and antique roadsters. The animal characters wear felt hats, vests and rumpled coats with a 1930s-era fashion flair. Narrator Skunk (""I'm actually a raccoon, but I guess I didn't bathe enough when I was younger and the nickname stuck"") belongs to a bowling league called the Rogues, which includes a walrus, a gorilla and a cardsharp rat. Terrible bowlers all, the Rogues decide to form a gang instead. They start with such minor infractions as crossing against traffic lights and stealing hubcaps ""because it's a crime and we need the practice."" Things turn uglier when a conniving goat and a villainous ewe known as the Sheep Lady put them up to robbery. After cops (depicted as pigs) foil the Rogues' bank heist, the antiheroes land in the slammer. Via Skunk's gruff, Bogie-esque commentary, Egan shows how misdemeanors can escalate and how neophytes can be manipulated by experienced cons. The unsentimental plot, which goes from droll fun-and-games to a much more serious situation, forwards a distinct crime-doesn't-pay message. Egan challenges picture-book conventions, but with mixed results: an epilogue, which unconvincingly shows the repentant perps all grown up and in meaningful relationships, points to the difficulty of fusing grade-school entertainment with jaded adult hindsight. Ages 5-8. (Mar.)