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The word "adequate" comes to mind
on December 16, 2011
When Jack London was a teenager, he hooked up with a gang of sailors who pirated oysters from the beds around San Francisco Bay. After proving himself skilled in this form of larceny, he was persuaded to convert to the right side of the law and contribute his sailing skills to the California Fish Patrol. This agency monitored the waters of the bay, arresting poachers and scofflaws who violated the state fishing regulations. Tales of the Fish Patrol is a collection of short stories that, though highly fictionalized, are based on this period in London's life.
Although each of these seven tales could stand alone as a self-contained short story, they feature recurring characters and are intended to be read in sequence. They are narrated by an unnamed 16-year-old boy, presumably a surrogate for London himself. This narrator is aided by his partner, Charley Le Grant, and mentored by a supervisor, Neil Partington. All seven stories have the same basic structure. In the first few paragraphs, London describes a particular regulation in the fishing code, and the corresponding method of fishing that violates said code. The fish patrolmen find some suspects practicing this illegal angling, and they move to apprehend them. Most of the action in the book is boat vs. boat, rather than man vs. man, though the occasional shot is fired. Usually there is not much trouble in capturing the perpetrators, but difficulty arises in returning the criminals to shore. To this end the narrator and his pal Charley come up with some clever means of outsmarting the bad guys and completing their mission.
This series of stories was originally published in the magazine The Youth's Companion in 1905, so the intended audience was the teenage boys of a century ago. The children of today will most likely not have much interest in these tales, unless they happen to sail boats on a daily basis. For contemporary adults, there's not much attraction here either. There's really nothing wrong with the stories in this collection, but there's nothing memorable about them either. They are merely unexceptional examples of adventure genre fiction that happen to be written by a great author. If you're hoping to gain some biographical insight into London's youth, his nautical adolescence is covered far more vividly and colorfully in the first several chapters of his excellent memoir John Barleycorn. No doubt in its day Tales of the Fish Patrol served its purpose by entertaining America's youth in a workmanlike manner. Nowadays it should only be read by the most enthusiastic of London fans who just can't get enough of his work.