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Tintin and the Broken Ear is the sixth book in the classic series of Tintin adventures by Belgian writer and illustrator Hergé and was first published in Le Petit Vingtième from 1935 to 1937 before appearing in book form. It was later coloured and reissued with new art in 1943. The 'MacGuffin' that drives the plot in Tintin and the Broken Ear is a wooden Arumbaya fetish idol that is stolen from the Museum of Ethnography in Brussels. The following day the idol is mysteriously returned with a note apologising and explaining that it had all been done for a bet. Tintin is one of many reporters interested in this strange case and his investigation leads to a big discovery. The returned idol is in fact a fake as the original had a broken right ear and this one doesn't.
When Tintin learns that a sculptor named Balthazar has been murdered he strongly suspects that Balthazar had something to do with the forgery and decides to investigate further, attempting to pick up a clue from Balthazar's annoying parrot. However, a pair of very dodgy and ruthless villains named Alonso Perez and Ramon Bada are also on the trail of clues and the fetish idol themselves and will stop at nothing to succeed. The search duly takes all of them to South America and the troubled country of San Theodoros where an attempted revolution is underway and Tintin will meet his friend General Alcazar for the very first time...
Tintin and the Broken Ear has a plot that owes quite a lot to the novel The Maltese Falcon and - like the previous Tintin book The Blue Lotus - mirrors some real life political situations of the era. When San Theodoros goes to war with the neighbouring (and also fictional) state of Nuevo-Rico, Hergé is making reference to the Gran Chaco oil-war between Paraguay and Bolivia in the thirties. The political manipulations and greed of western oil companies are the culprits in both cases both real and fictional. The political elements to the story also extend to an international arms dealer character (based on a real life person named Basil Zaharoff) who is more than happy to make as money as possible from both sides. Although Tintin and the Broken Ear is not quite as innovative as The Blue Lotus it does continue in that vein with wild pursuits in far flung lands and memorable villains up to no good. The book is an example of Hergé moving away from isolated incidents and starting to become more ambitious and adept at giving the reader a proper story that is all interconnected.
Tintin becomes mixed up with rebel leader General Alcazar by accident here and begins the friendship that would see Alcazar become a recurring character in the Tintin series. Alcazar returned in The Seven Crystal Balls and then went on to feature in several other books, taking his place amongst the regular supporting characters in the Tintin universe. Alcazar is in battle with his sworn enemy General Tapioca for control of San Theodoros and although Tapioca doesn't appear here he does play a big part in one of the last books in the series - Tintin and the Picaros - where Tintin (plus Captain Haddock & Professor Calculus, who don't feature here as they hadn't been introduced to the series yet) returns to San Theodoros. Even though there were many adventures inbetween, Tintin and the Picaros is almost like a sequel to Tintin and the Broken Ear. General Alcazar is quite an interesting supporting character in the Tintin series as he has more shades of grey than the more obviously heroic (if clumsy) Haddock, Calculus and Thomson and Thompson. He's not an obvious hero and he's not an obvious villain but rather something inbetween.
You don't quite get the edge and sense of danger and invention that The Blue Lotus had at times but there is still some relatively good stuff in Tintin and the Broken Ear as the story unfolds. The wooden fetish idol is used in clever fashion by Hergé to spin out an Indiana Jones type plot where various characters are trying to outwit each other or are forced to search in dangerous places, with double-twists and betrayals abounding. Tintin has some decent encounters/battles with the baddies throughout the story. I liked the kayak-trip Tintin undertakes in search of a mysterious tribe and the rainforest sequences are generally interesting and atmospheric. Hergé was known for the occasional surreal interlude and there are a few hints of this side of him here although I gather the original version contained a trademark weird dream sequence that is not present in this (now standard) 1943 version. The art in Tintin and the Broken Ear is suitably impressive and detailed at times with good backdrops.
There is quite a memorable section too in the book where Tintin is placed before a firing squad and we get the rare sight of seeing him completely drunk. A cheeky and annoying parrot is deployed for comic effect in the first third of the book just as Hergé later used a parrot again in The Castafiore Emerald to memorably annoy Captain Haddock. I don't quite know why Hergé was so obsessed with parrots but he gleaned a few laughs from them in his long career. The accident prone detectives Thomson and Thompson made a brief appearance here near the start of Tintin and the Broken Ear but aren't really a part of the story. Although this early adventure is not quite as good as The Blue Lotus and was surpassed by many of the future books in the series, it is a solid entry and marks the point where Hergé was really beginning to open up the books and become more ambitious.
The story has an enjoyable number of twists and turns and it builds to a satisfying ending with plenty of action along the way. Tintin and the Broken Ear is not quite classic Tintin but this is still pretty good nonetheless.