CRITIQUING INSTITUTIONAL FAILURES
“Young Broadbrim’s lip curled scornfully as he spoke. The utter lack of brains existing in the police department of the city was at once pitiful and amusing.”
- From Young Broadbrim on a Newsboy Mystery, page 1
In both the Deadwood Dick and Old Broadbrim series, a failure of Eastern institutions often sets the plot in motion. Courts and police departments are portrayed as incompetent at best, corrupt at worst, and an innocent victim’s last recourse - an appeal to the broader community - falls on deaf ears. Deadwood Dick is originally forced into a life of crime when the Eastern courts fail to protect him from an abusive guardian, "a man of great influence."1
In the first Old Broadbrim story, the police are conspicuously absent. A man who impersonates the Philadelphia chief of police turns out to be one of many disguised crooks in a convoluted robbery scheme. Only the intervention of Old Broadbrim delivers these men to justice. Even then, the courts fail to operate to the detective’s satisfaction; they let a major criminal go for lack of evidence and, after fleeing the country, he is apprehended in England by a detective Old Broadbrim appointed to tail him. These examples critique the police and courts both implicitly and directly, reinforcing popular cynicism about public institutions' ability to achieve justice.
1. Wheeler, Edward L. Deadwood Dick, The Prince of the Road; or, The Black Rider of the Black Hills. Reading the West: An Anthology of Dime Westerns. Ed. Bill Brown. Boston and New York: Bedford Books, 1997. 269-358. Print. 353.