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The Great Brain is a series of eight children's books written by John D. Fitzgerald. Taking place in the fictional town of Adenville, Utah, near the beginning of the 20th century, the books follow the various adventures of the middle Fitzgerald children.

Tom "TD" Fitzgerald, the titular "Great Brain", is an extremely smart child who balances his time between playing detective and coming up with various schemes to con the local kids out of their money and possessions. His brother John "JD" Fitzgerald narrates TD's various adventures and spends most of his time being the Butt-Monkey of the series. Other major characters include TD and JD's older brother Sweyn; their adopted brother Franky; their parents; their adoptive Aunt Bertha; their Uncle Mark (who is the town marshal), and a couple of dozen or so neighborhood kids and their various family members.

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List of books in the series:
  • The Great Brain
  • More Adventures of the Great Brain
  • Me And My Little Brain (focuses on JD's life while Tom is away at the Academy of the following book, introduces adopted brother Franky to the cast)
  • The Great Brain at the Academy
  • The Great Brain Reforms
  • The Return of the Great Brain
  • The Great Brain Does It Again
  • The Great Brain Is Back

Related books (these books share the same setting and were published before the Great Brain books. The Great Brain series grew out of these novels, as an AU series focusing on the children):

  • Papa Married a Mormon
  • Mama's Boarding House
  • Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse

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This book series provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abandoned Mine: An abandoned mine is the setting of a ghost scare prank in one of the books.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: While by no means an antagonist in the Great Brain books, Mr. Fitzgerald is more prone to boastfulness, cowardice, hypocrisy, and Disproportionate Retribution than he is in Papa Married a Mormon.
  • Adults Are Useless: Played straight most of the time. While the adults aren't completely incompetent, whenever something comes up its usually up to Tom to set things right. Lampshaded in the very first book, when Tom actually gives a speech to a crowd of adults about how "when the adults failed, I knew it was up to me to succeed". Subverted somewhat with the teachers at the academy, who prove to be fairly on the ball; Sweyn even warns Tom about this during their trip to the school, and agrees to not interfere with any schemes as long as Tom accepts all responsibility when (inevitably) he gets caught.
  • After-School Cleaning Duty: In The Great Brain at the Academy, cleaning the bathrooms and Peeling Potatoes are two of the standard punishments. Tom finds a bright side to it when he finds the dormitory bathroom provides a handy way to sneak out of the school to buy candy. Even when they're not being punished, every student has an assigned area to clean and has to take a turn helping in the kitchen.
  • Anachronism Stew: A couple of minor examples. The series is set in the late 1890s, but there are brief references to buffalo nickels (which weren't issued until 1913), and Arizona being a state (Arizona didn't become a state until 1912.)
  • Alternate Continuity: The Great Brain books are not exactly canon with the three adult novels. Numerous details about the town and characters contradict each other between the novels and the Great Brain, and several Fitzgerald family members are completely absent from the Great Brain series.
  • Ascended Extra: Parley Benson is introduced in the second book, and in the later books in the series is the most prominently featured of JD's and Tom's friends.
  • Author Avatar: JD is an obvious avatar of the series Author John D. Fitzgerald
  • Badass Boast:
    • Parley Benson frequently brags about his exploits and adventures. His friends quickly learn that he can back up all of his boasting with action, as he is highly athletic, and is used to a rugged outdoor life. A clue to how badass he is is that even Tom won't dare to fight with him.
    • Tom himself is very proud of his great brain and his fighting ability, and never hesitates to let people know it.
  • Batman Gambit: The Outlaw Cal Roberts pulls off a fairly good one in order to get at his intended targets. And of course, Tom pulls them off left and right.
  • Big Brother Worship: Frankie grows to adore JD as a brother and loves to seek his advice and friendship... until he meets Tom and quickly shifts his priorities to the Great Brain.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Happens at least once a book; JD insults Tom in some way, Tom manipulates JD into "punishing himself" by threatening to tell their parents, all while denying that it even counts as blackmail at all.
  • Black Market: In book 4 Tom sets up a black market candy store inside the Academy, because the school has a strict "no candy on campus" rule, and he knows the desperate children will be more than willing to buy overpriced candy from him if they can get it.
  • Boarding School: The Academy in Salt Lake City that Tom and Sweyn attend.
  • Boomerang Bigot: Sammy Leeds and his father hold racist attitude towards immigrants despite Sammy's own grandfather being an immigrant.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Frankie Pennyworth, who the Fitzgeralds adopt in the third book starts off this way. JD initially calls him “Frankenstein Dollarworth” (“He’s a monster, and a dollar’s worth of trouble”). He gets better... a little.
  • Break the Haughty: Wanting to prove he's mature enough to help with his father's paper, Tom uses an old press to start his own paper. While he does solve a bank robbery in the process, most of the news he prints is malicious gossip that has been going around for years. After the neighbors threaten legal action against Papa, he appeases the crowd then proceeds to call Tom out, telling him he's too immature to do more than deliver a paper, reducing Tom to tears for the first time in his life.
  • Broad Strokes: The main series is clearly set in a different continuity than Papa Married a Mormon and Mama's Boarding House, due to (among other things) the Fitzgerald brothers' sister, Uncle Will, and foster brother Earnie being Adapted Out. At the same time, the brothers occasionally reference events from those books (like their Uncle Mark's duel with the Laredo Kid)..
  • Broken Pedestal: JD spends the first few books jealous of Tom's smarts and even trying to emulate him at times. By the fifth book, JD has finally realized Tom's greed is overwhelming him. An eye-opener is when Tom bilks a friend out of a toy rifle, even knowing the kid will be punished by his father for it. JD reflects on how Tom could have easily bought a rifle of his own, but "his money-loving heart wouldn't let him spend a penny for something his great brain could get for nothing." The clincher is when Tom nearly gets two kids killed for a lousy thirty cents and JD realizes how awful he can be. While that softens in the later books, JD may love his brother but no longer wants to be like him.
  • Bumbling Dad: Mr. Fitzgerald is a mild case: though he is shown to be very intelligent and competent at most things, he's also portrayed as somewhat gullible and he can be careless when he gets caught up in an idea (such as when he gets the family lost in his zeal to find a new fishing hole on a camping trip).
  • Bury Your Disabled: Narrowly averted when Andy Anderson loses his leg to gangrene and tries to kill himself with J.D.'s help. Neither attempt is successful to begin with, but Tom walks in on the two trying to hang Andy in the barn and offers-for a fee, of course,- to teach Andy to do his chores and play games with his peg leg.
  • Butt-Monkey: JD, who ends up the target of Tom's schemes, blackmail, and general jerkassery more than anyone else.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': JD, in contrast to Tom, rarely ever manages to successfully pull off his own schemes, and never manages to outsmart his brother.
  • Cassandra Truth: Tom figures out a supposed big business being set up in town is really a confidence scam. His father, however, refuses to believe him, brushing off Tom's evidence. Uncle Mark was already onto the guy but lampshades that if Tom can't convince his own father, he'll have a hard time convincing other people. However, Tom's own evidence is enough for Mark to find more that reveals the truth to arrest the group.
  • Chain of Deals: JD attempts this in Book 3. He's pretty good at it until he gets to the end and realizes he never figured out what he wanted out of the deals.
  • Christianity Is Catholic: Averted, as the books are set in Utah. Though the Fitzgeralds are Catholic, the boys only see a priest once a year and never see a Catholic church until they go away to school.
  • Closer to Earth: Mrs. Fitzgerald fits this to a tee, she isn't so easily swayed as her husband, in general or by Tom in particular, and she's always the first to take charge in a crisis. JD points out that "there's no disputing one of mamma's decisions".
  • Consummate Liar: Despite expressing an aversion to outright lying, Tom falls into this category, due to his tendency to manipulate the truth. And by the later books he just outright lies anyway.
    JD: If he was caught stealing a horse, he'd claim he was nearsighted and thought it was his lost milk cow. And for my money, he'd get away with it.
  • Cool Uncle: The Fitzgerald boys clearly admire their Uncle Mark, who is the town marshal and the county sheriff's chief deputy. Among the things that make them admire him are the fact that he doesn't talk down to them, he is an accomplished and highly competent peace officer, and he gets them unique gifts at holidays and birthdays. He also plays along with their schemes to a degree, as long as those schemes don't put people in danger or break the law.
  • "Could Have Avoided This!" Plot: Tom is upset the academy serves liver once a week as he cannot stand the taste of it. This leads him to pull some shenanigans to sneak into the kitchen to make himself a sandwich. When discovered, Father Rodriguez is set to hand out a punishment when Tom protests being unable to eat liver. An astounded Rodriguez asks why Tom simply didn't say that before and immediately arranges for the cook to give him a different meal that night. Rodriguez lampshades Tom made the mistaken assumption that A) he's the first kid in school to have this problem and B) that Rodriguez is the type of man who'd make a child go to bed hungry rather than eat a food he hates.
  • Cowboys and Indians: The game of "Posse and Outlaw" the children play in book 6.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Tom is intelligent enough to make money without resorting to cheating and manipulation, and he does come up with a few legit business ventures over the series, but always ends up falling back on his con man ways. JD lampshades the irony that when Tom does try a legit venture, it somehow never works as well as his con games.
  • Damned by Faint Praise: In Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse, Will throws an overly elaborate funeral for a dead Prospector as a lark, only to be disturbed when no one can think of a eulogy to give the dead man besides that he bathed before visiting the local brothel (unlike most prospectors).
  • A Day In The Lime Light: JD is the First-Person Peripheral Narrator for most of the books except book 3, which is all about him.
  • Dean Bitterman: Subverted with Father Rodriguez; he appears to be one after he and Tom get off on the wrong foot, but Tom sees him as a Reasonable Authority Figure by the end of the book. This is largely Protagonist-Centered Morality as well; most of what we know about him is based on the perspective of Tom, who is, well, actively breaking rules.
  • Defeat Means Friendship:
    • Sammy Leads picks on the Greek immigrant Basil until Basil manages to beat him in a fight. After that the two are as friendly with each other as they are with anyone else.
    • In Papa Married a Mormon Earnest "Dirty" Dawson ends up befriending the whole Fitzgerald family after Tom whips him, to the point that they take him in when his father does.
  • Demoted to Extra: Sweyn started out the series as a main character along with Tom and John, despite being put on a train in the second to last chapter of book 1. Except for Book 4, he plays an increasingly smaller part in the storyline as the books go on, as he spends most of his time away at school.
  • Devil in Plain Sight: Tom, although most people in town catch on pretty quickly that he's not to be underestimated.
  • Didn't Think This Through:
    • Most of JD's attempts to beat Tom at his own game end up with him either being blackmailed by Tom into paying money to him, or in JD ending up doing Tom's share of the chores. He'll openly grouse on how he could be so dumb as to miss the obvious problem and citing it as an example of "my little brain."
    • However, many of Tom's schemes also end this way. After all, as smart as Tom can be, he is still a kid and often fails to grasp the complexities of some long-term schemes or their consequences.
    • While on a train, Tom gets a piece of cinder in his eye looking out the window. He's told the train company will reward anyone who comes up with an idea to improve the train performance. Tom suggests a long pipe going from the train engine to the rear of the train that would ensure the smoke doesn't affect the passengers and sits as if expecting to be paid on the spot. Smirking, the train conductor tells Tom that very idea has been suggested before and shot down because the smoke and ash will get clogged in the pipe and overheat the engine, not to mention be far more expensive to build and maintain. Tom has to bite down the embarrassment of being wrong on such an obvious point.
    • It's indicated that this is why Tom's attempts at legitimate ventures don't work as well. He's terrific at figuring out the nuances of a con game but misses the legal loopholes and issues of an honest line of work.
  • Died in Your Arms Tonight: Abie Glassman dies in Mama's arms.
  • Direct Line to the Author: In Book 4, JD tells the reader that the stories of the academy that he's narrating are pieced together from the sometimes contradictory secondhand accounts given to him by his brothers Tom and Sweyn and the letters they wrote home during their year away at school.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: If you ever get on Tom's bad side, for any reason, be prepared to suffer extreme consequences. The worst may possibly be the very first book, in which Tom conspires to get his school teacher fired by framing him for drinking, all because the teacher paddled him.
  • Double Standard: Tom and JD can sometimes feel this way for adults doing things that would get kids into trouble. In The Great Brain Reforms, Mama wants to "borrow" the schoolhouse bell for a 4th of July parade float with Papa getting the kids to help. JD reflects that if he and Tom were to even suggest such a thing as a joke, they'd lose their allowance for months, yet their parents perfectly okay stealing a school bell just to win a parade prize.
  • Dumb Is Good: Completely averted. JD flat out says that it's not Tom's Intelligence that makes him a Jerkass, but his "money-loving heart".
  • Everybody Has Standards: One of the things that keeps Tom from falling into pure villainy is he has a code of honor. He may scam folks but he tries not to openly hurt people with them and is often appalled at some bigger crooks. When they find out a dogfighting ring is being set up, Tom and JD try to save the dogs with JD noting that no matter how greedy Tom would be, he'd never stoop to hurting animals to make money.
  • Exact Words: TD often takes advantage of this to pull off a scheme or lie without technically lying. For example, when a priest asks if he has any candy, Tom replies "I don't have any on me" and he's right, it's in his suitcase.
  • Expy: Fitzgerald later wrote a book called Private Eye, set in the 1970s, with several similar characters: the Tom expy was more of a Kid Detective, but still had an admiring First-Person Peripheral Narrator brother, similar parents, and a bully/friend along the lines of Sammy Leeds.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Every time Tom comes up with a legitimate business venture that doesn't involve cheating people (river rafting, a homemade chute-the-chute, a magic show, etc.) something eventually happens to put put an end to it.
  • Family Theme Naming: All of the Fitzgerald men have the middle name "Dennis".
  • Fate Worse than Death: The "silent treatment", JD's family's ultimate punishment. For a period of time determined by the inflicter, you are treated as though you don't exist. The boys openly wish they'd just get a whipping like any other kid, as at least that's over fast. It is presented as being utterly crushing, which is now known to be Truth in Television.
    • However, after their first use of the silent treatment on Frankie results in him running away into the desert to be rescued by a search party, they abandon the silent treatment altogether and punish the boys by withholding allowances and imposing extra chores.
    • When JD puts Tom on trial, Tom is convicted and sentenced to one year of the silent treatment from the town kids. However, JD and teen judge Harold Vickers choose to suspend the sentence as long as Tom keeps his nose clean
  • Faux Action Girl: Britches Dotty. She's introduced in book 2 as a tomboy capable of holding her own against the boys in most things, and manages to beat up the biggest bully in school in a fair fight. By the end of her chapter though, she's been transformed into a normal girl and gives up "masculine" pursuits. Considering where and when this happened, it was inevitable.
  • First Name Ultimatum: The main characters parents call them by their initials normally. Anytime a parent calls a child by his full first and middle name, he knows he's in trouble.
  • For Your Own Good:
    • Tom often invokes this during his scamming of JD as he's just "teaching" his brother to watch out for things like this. JD just sees it as a flimsy excuse for Tom's antics.
    • How JD acts during Tom's trial in Book 5. His "summation" has him stating he's genuinely afraid if Tom doesn't change his ways, his con artist antics will go from just mischief to full-fledged criminal ways and end up in prison or the end of a hangman's noose. That, more than anything, shakes Tom to realize how far he's gone.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: One villain from The Great Brain Strikes Again is a bigoted farmer who frames multiple Native American men for theft. The Reveal that he's motivated by how Native Americans killed his wife and son, is sad but is rightfully treated as not being a remotely good excuse for his Misplaced Retribution.
  • Frontier Doctor: Papa Married a Mormon and Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse feature Doc Tethers, a well-educated but extremely coarse doctor in a western mining town. It's implied that he left the East due to his disfigured son not fitting in with society.
  • Getting Sick Deliberately: In the first book, JD purposely sneaks into a friend's house in order to get infected with measles. He knows doing so will make his mother force both of his brothers to allow themselves to be infected off of him. He plans to get better first and then make fun of them for being sick as revenge for all the times they got sick first and then did the same to him with previous diseases.
  • Gone Horribly Right: As part of a prank, Tom and JD create fake footprints to make it seem like a dinosaur is in the area, thinking it'll be a good laugh. To their shock, their father and uncle actually believe it and it starts to build up into a big story with the government about to be called in. When the two confess, their mother laughs out loud at how the two supposedly sane and smart adults fell for this ruse.
  • Good Is Boring: This is JD's opinion, after Tom reforms.
  • Handicapped Badass: In Papa Married a Mormon, Uncle Will is confined to a wheelchair after being shot in the spine by the Laredo Kid. In Mama's Boarding House, when Buzz Beeler beats his manservant half to death, Will has himself tied to a light pole so he can stand up and draw his gun, winning the duel easily.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: At the academy, the upperclassmen openly state that when they don't want the "baby seventh graders" to know something, they'll talk to each other in Latin. Tom is annoyed as even his great brain can't teach him the language overnight.
  • Honor Before Reason: To the point of being Values Dissonance at times. The characters put quit a lot of emphasis on the importance of honor, reputation, and having a good family name. JD several times mentions that he'd rather die or run away from home than shame his family, and accusing someone of lying or cheating is grounds for a fight, even if there was good reason for the accusation. And the kids will pretty much do anything in order to prove that they aren't cowards. TD, of course, is Genre Savvy enough to often take advantage of this to get the other kids to do what he wants.
  • Honorary Uncle: Aunt Bertha is not actually related to the Fitzgeralds, but they call her "aunt" because they consider her part of the family.
  • Hypocrite: Tom. He expresses a dislike for lying and espouses the virtues of honor and keeping your word...But he lies quit a bit to further his own needs, and Blackmail is one of his favorite punishments for his brother.
    • "Nobody calls Tom Dennis Fitzgerald a liar and gets away with it!" - The Great Brain at the Academy
    • The rest of the kids aren't much better most of the time either. The Tug O' War game demonstrates this, when Tom gets his entire team to knowingly cheat against the Morman kids, and even profit from it with some side betting, despite how many times all the kids have been cheated and taken advantage of by him themselves. Even JD justifies it in his mind.
  • Hypocritical Humor: A very dark example; the outlaw Cal Roberts disparages Uncle Mark's plan to ambush him as a "low-down trick for a marshal to pull" while he himself is holding a 4-year-old boy hostage at gunpoint. Lampshaded in the narration by JD.
  • I Own This Town: In Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse, Mayor Haggerty does a decent amount of civic good, but he awards all of the town's construction contracts to a company he owns and uses the portages he and his friends own to keep anyone from subscribing to an Intrepid Reporter's paper until the man kills a story about him.
    Will: Haggerty is the only mayor Silver Plume has ever had. Nobody bothers to run against him because they know they haven't a chance of beating him.
  • Improvised Lockpick: In The Great Brain at the Academy, TD makes an impression in wax of the key to a locked room, then carves a duplicate out of wood.
  • Informed Flaw: According to JD, their father has a reputation for jumping into bad investments and crazy ideas that don't work. Their mother complains on the attic filled with now-worthless stocks. However, the closest to that actually shown in the books is Mr. Fitzgerald nearly falling for a con man and even then, he's not the only person in town to do so. He's the first in Adenville to have an indoor toilet and rightly predicts that giving JD a basketball and backboard will make him the most popular kid in town.
  • It Will Never Catch On:
    • The very first chapter of the first book has Mr. Fitzgerald purchase Adenville's very first "Water Closet" (AKA an indoor toilet). This is the reaction of most of the town.
    • The bishop in book 4 says there never has been an athletic program at a Catholic school and there never will be.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Tom walks in on JD helping Andy commit suicide and puts a stop to it.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Tom's "explanation" to the other kids at the academy as to why his Black Market candy store is perfectly acceptable within the rules of the school borders on this; his logic doesn't hold up to any serious scrutiny, but the kids he's trying to convince accept it pretty fast. Many of Tom's other explanations for his schemes fall into this category too.
  • In-Series Nickname:
    • Papa Fitzgerald is called "Fitz" by the adults in Adenville.
    • The boys' friends disparagingly call Dotty "Britches Dotty" due to the fact that she wears Levi's jeans. In the time when the book was set, girls and women were expected to wear dresses.
    • The Fitzgerald boys call each other by their initials when speaking to one another.
  • From a Certain Point of View: Tom is actually against outright lying, but has no problem at all using this trope to cover his tracks.
  • Jerkass: Tom, quit a bit of the time, especially as the books went on.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Also Tom, when he's doing something a little more heroic.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: The local kids put up with Tom's schemes...until he risks the lives of a whole raft full of them just to earn some money.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Several of Tom's schemes fall under this heading, the entire scheme reliant upon Tom convincing his targets that they know how Tom is trying to cheat them, and thus have a certain win themselves. This despite the fact that every one of the kids in town openly calls Tom a swindler and con man and has been cheated by him multiple times, they ALWAYS take the bet. Frequently Tom enforces this by losing small bets initially, convincing the other kids to bet significantly larger amounts of money (or valuable item), and winning his final, largest bet with his intended mark. JD is a particular example of this trope, having had several of Tom's con schemes explained to him in full detail how Tom was guaranteed a win the entire time, and yet JD STILL takes Tom's bets.
  • Karma Houdini: Somewhat subverted; Tom actually gets in trouble quite a lot for the various stunts he pulls, to the point where he probably loses his allowance more weeks out of the year than he gets it. But on the other hand, the punishments he receives for his plans are often pretty light relative to what he actually does; such as when he tried to get his teacher fired by ruining his reputation; the punishment? a week of silent treatment.
    • JD confirms Tom's Houdini status in-universe, when he points out that many townspeople have tried to have him arrested for his stunts, but are never able to because he never does anything technically illegal.
    • This is one of the main themes of the sixth book. Tom is under a suspended sentence of one year of the silent treatment, with the suspension to be revoked if Tom is found to have swindled any other kid during that time. Tom carefully frames his schemes and bets in such a way that he can argue that his victims understood what the rules of the bet were and knowingly entered into them, thus nobody can prove he was dishonest and they cannot revoke his suspended sentence. Harold Vickers, the teenaged judge who presided over Tom's trial, agrees and even points out that the victims were foolish when they agreed to the bets. Notably, this is the only book in the series where Tom manages to avoid any kind of punishment from his parents, largely through legalistic wording in his explanations to them. He knows that if his parents decided to punish him, the town kids would also revoke his suspended sentence.
  • Midnight Snack: While at the Academy, Tom organizes a weekly midnight raid on the kitchen because he can't stand eating the regularly-scheduled serving of liver. He soon gets caught red-handed because of course the cooks notice food disappearing from the pantry every week.
  • Might Makes Right: The kids all basically operate on this to a certain extent, even when Mr. Fitzgerald occasionally tries to discourage it.
  • Mooks: In Me and My Little Brain, Cal Roberts has half-a-dozen other outlaws in his gang, but only one of them is named or has any dialogue. They all get Killed Offscreen in various separate incidents, leaving Cal - who is indifferent to their deaths - to carry on alone.
  • Moral Myopia: JD and TD suffer from this to some extent on occasion; understandable considering their young ages. The mumps chapter in book 1 easily being a good example for all the kids; JD desperately wants to catch a childhood illness first just so he'll finally have the chance to bully his sick brothers the same way they always did to him in the past. When it actually happens, TD and Sweyn retaliate with an extreme punishment, and never acknowledge that they in the past indulged in the same bullying and teasing.
    • There's also the Tug O' War game, where Tom gets JD and his entire team to enthusiastically participate in a scheme to win the competition through cheating, and even profit from it with some side betting. Despite the fact that everyone has been a victim of Tom's schemes in the past, they all still go along with it and justify the cheating as "putting the Mormon kids in their place" for winning several previous years in a row.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The whole town goes through this when Abie Glassman dies from malnutrition and everyone begins to question if they're possibly Anti-Semitic and how differently things might have turned out if it had happened to someone else. As a result, guilt ran rampant throughout the town for a while.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: In The Great Brain Reforms, Tom becomes convinced a man setting up a business in town is a con man. He gets telegrams from folks on how there's no record of the company he claims to represent and a chemical expert saying the man's claims a huge field of salt can be viable for production is false. To Tom's shock, their father refuses to listen, brushing off the evidence and saying, "leave this to the adults." Tom and JD go to Uncle Mark who, to their surprise, instantly believes them as he'd been suspicious of the guy already. Tom's telegrams are enough for Mark to go ahead and gain more evidence to find out the truth and arrest the group.
  • One Steve Limit: Several aversions of this trope throughout the series as a whole.
    • Frank Jensen (one of the Fitzgerald boys' friends,) Frank Jackson (an outlaw in the second book), and Frankie Pennyworth Fitzgerald, John and Tom's adopted brother.
    • Jerry Stout, the town saddle maker, and Jerry Moran, Tom's best friend at the Catholic academy. The latter could double as a Hilarious in Hindsight moment.
    • Hal Evans, one of the boys' friends, and Hal Benson, the sharpshooter father of their friend Parley Benson.
    • Calvin Whitlock, the mayor of Adenville, and Cal Roberts, the outlaw.
    • Though Papa's name isn't given in the books, the real-life father of John and Tom Fitzgerald, on who he was based, was also named Thomas.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Most notably in Book 5 when Papa and Mama don't realize until after the flood that Tom has been charging kids for rides on the raft, even though Papa had inspected it and been aware that Tom was making several trips a day and using one of his horses to haul it. Averted in other parts, where they suspect that the boys are up to something but elect to let them sort it out amongst themselves.
  • Peeling Potatoes: One of the standardized punishments handed out at the Academy.
  • Ponzi: Tom tries the beginnings of a mini Ponzi scheme in Book 8 between him and JD. The scheme involves Tom getting JD to buy whole sale soap from him, that he can then turn around and sell door to door at a markup, which, Tom predicts, he won't be able to do, because regular soap is significantly cheaper. Thus, Tom makes money as the "middle man" and JD gets stuck with a product he can't sell. JD does manage to find buyers for all his soap, and after Tom makes an attempt to sell the soap himself he takes some petty revenge on his brother by telling JD's buyers that he over-charged them.
  • Put on a Bus: Or rather a train; Sweyn is sent away to boarding school.
  • Radish Cure: Done in The Great Brain is Back when Tom, in experiment to find out why men smoke, gets caught smoking a cigarette in the barn. Papa tells him he may not smoke cigarettes outside, but he's free to have a pipe or cigar in the house anytime. Tom lasts about a few minutes before turning green, and when his girlfriend says she doesn't like the smell anyway, he concludes that men smoke in order to repel women.
  • "Rashomon"-Style: It's indicated that The Great Brain at the Academy is this for JD. As he explains, his way of finding out what's happening are letters from Tom (both to their parents and private ones for his brother), letters from Sweyn and letters from the Academy teachers. While Tom's letters are frank and more detailed, JD knows better than to trust Tom not to embellish things to make himself look better. For example, Tom never told JD about being embarrassed on the train by his idea for a "locomotive chimney" failing until Sweyn told him. Likewise, Sweyn's letters have a bit of a bias against his brother while unaware of several details. The Academy teachers may be blunter on Tom's actions but likewise don't know the reasons why he does what he does. Thus, JD "had to be a bit of a detective" to piece together the differing viewpoints and fill in the blanks to figure out what happened and even then, acknowledges there might be a few details he's wrong on.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: While strict, the teachers at the academy are ultimately an example of this. One specific example being after the above-mentioned kitchen raids, Tom is punished.. but also allowed to eat a couple of soft-boiled eggs instead of the liver.
  • Retcon: Book 1 ends with Tom learning a lesson about good deeds being their own reward and reforming from his con man ways. Book 2 retcons this change of heart into a ruse used by Tom to fool their parents into buying him a new bicycle.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Herbie the Poet, introduced in book 7, rhymes all his sentences. He soon admits he does this because, being severely overweight, he's not athletic enough to do much else.
  • Rigged Contest: In one book, Tom gets several other boys to weed sections of the garden for him by saying that there is a dollar hidden in there. They pick by Drawing Straws, but Tom rigs it with the first boy to draw a straw so that he'll find the dollar but will give it back to Tom afterward in exchange for a smaller amount of money that is a more than fair price for weeding a quarter of the garden.
    • The tug o' war contest also; Tom secretly plants stakes in the ground on one side of the field so his team can brace their feet and prevent the other team from pulling them down into the river, and also arranges it so his team is guaranteed to get the side of the field with the stakes. Notably one of the only schemes in the series where Tom lets multiple kids in on the plan.
  • Rules Lawyer: Tom will do this when it suits him, though he typically doesn't have much respect for the rules. A prominent example would be book 5 when he's trying to convince the boarding school kids that his planned Black Market Candy Store is perfectly ok. To their first objection he asks them to show him where in the Bible it says that eating candy in a catholic school is a sin, which obviously there is no such specific commandment, and then he gives a "technically" correct example of a situation where eating candy in school would not break the rules, and the kids are convinced. His examples are a little Trolly and definitely wouldn't convince a rational adult, but the kids fall for it.
  • Sadist Teacher:
    • Subverted; when the new teacher Mr. Standish is introduced, he's seen by the children as an unmerciful tyrant willing to paddle children for the slightest offense. However, it soon becomes clear to the heroes and the reader that he's actually a very dedicated upstanding man, and they actually come to respect him.
    • Subverted again with the entirety of book 4; Tom expects life at the academy to be miserable, as he's heard various horror stories of how strict everything is. By the end of the book he admits that, while the school did turn out to be very strict, he ended up respecting the teachers and their dedication to the students.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: Book 2 has the characters investigating a haunted mining town, where they run into a ghost. The ghost turns out to be the uncle of one of the neighborhood kids, who overheard them planning and dressed up as a ghost to scare the kids away.
    • Tom also perpetuates a "Scooby-Doo" Hoax against the entire town when he creates fake monster footprints near a cave. He only did it to teach a kid a lesson about bragging but the whole town ends up falling for it.
    • He also has J.D. dress as a devil to scare Herbie Sties into sticking to his diet. It works a little too well, and he refuses to eat for days. Tom confesses after hearing his parents called the doctor, but still thinks Mr Sties owes him money for the weight Herbie lost.
  • Second Place Is for Winners: The spelling bee in the last book.
  • Self-Deprecation: J.D. constantly refers to himself as only having a "little brain," because of how easily he falls for Tom's cons. It's even the title of the third book, which is the book where J.D. tells his own story instead of acting as a peripheral narrator for Tom's story. In the ending of "Me and My Little Brain," J.D. subverts his nickname quite nicely by foiling a dangerous outlaw who has kidnapped Frankie, but still insists that he is satisfied with his "little brain."
  • Self-Serving Memory:
    • The Great Brain at the Academy has JD realizing that Tom has a habit of omitting details in his letters that have him in a poorer light while Sweyn can be harsher on his brother.
    • JD himself can have this as more than once, he'll complain about being punished as "an innocent bystander" in some of Tom's antics when the reader sees JD was often in it up to his neck and perfectly okay with Tom's plans until it got them in trouble.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!:
    • JD puts Tom on trial in book 5, and he only goes along with it because he's convinced he'll make fools out of them all. Harold proceeds to tear his logic and defense to pieces.
    • Father O'Malley does it in book 4, when he hears Tom's confession for the first time. Tom makes an excuse for every sin he confesses, and Fr. O'Malley tells him his confession has been blasphemous and gives him a huge penance.
  • Sidekick: Jerry is Tom's best friend and main accomplice in The Great Brain at the Academy.
  • Sociopathic Hero: A mild example with TD. Tom is greedy, manipulative, and more than willing to con people out of their money or posessions, and even when he does something truly heroic, there's usually a selfish reason behind his actions.
  • Spotting the Thread:
    • Tom can be a master of this as he can catch details his brain puts together to either figure out a crime or the makings of a new scam.
    • On a train trip to Salt Lake City, Tom is able to spot that the cards being used in a game are specially marked to allow one player to cheat.
    • Tom suspects a supposed new business in town is really a confidence swindle. While his dad doesn't believe him, Uncle Mark does as the boss of the "company" was going too far with tricks like having his hair cut in a hotel during a talk with "investors," knowing the barber would spread the story around town to get other people to buy in.
  • A Taste of Their Own Medicine: Fittingly, the final story of the last book has Tom outwitted, done in by Exact Words and forced to pay his brothers and other kids money and publically humiliated...and all by his own mother.
  • Threat Backfire: Every time JD threatens to tell what Tom's done, Tom flips it back, pointing out how heartbroken their parents would be knowing of his antics. Half the time, it ends with JD forced to pay Tom to keep quiet. Sweyn gets this too when he says he'll tell their parents of anything shady Tom does at the academy. Tom just smirks that it won't look good for Sweyn if the kids at school think he'll tattle on his own brother and Sweyn backs down.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Now and then, Tom can do something unselfish. After he wins Sweyn's prized fishing pole in a bet, Tom promises he won't be as selfish with it as Sweyn was and let JD use it free of charge.
  • Too Dumb to Live: You start to wonder pretty quickly why anyone would make a bet with Tom, considering that he always wins. And yet the kids keep doing it. JD is a particularly bad example of this, multiple times across the books JD has had Tom or his father give him a fully detailed explanation of exactly how Tom was guaranteed a win the entire time, and yet he STILL takes Tom's deals and bets.
  • Un-Cancelled: It's obvious from reading the first book in the series that the author intended to write only one book. The seventh book also seemed to be written as an end to the series, but the eighth, which was published after Fitzgerald's death, starts right where the seventh left off.
    • The seventh actually seems to leave the door more open for sequels compared to the endings of the first, second, and fifth books.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Most of the stories either play Tom's antics for laughs or focus on the sense of community in Adenville. However, the villains can be genuinely terrifying and nasty.
    Buzz Beeler: Only one thing I hate worse than gre*ser, and that's a n*gger.
    • Cal Roberts (from Me and My Little Brain), kills two guards to break out of prison and seek revenge against the judge, prosecutor, and jury foreman who convicted him (with the jury foreman being Mr. Fitzgerald). Roberts tries to lynch the judge and then kidnaps four-year-old Frankie as a hostage, planning to kill him afterward. He even makes a dismissive We Have Reserves comment upon hearing that several of his gang members have been killed in a shootout.
  • We Want Our Jerk Back!: After Tom reforms, JD secretly wishes for him to return to his former ways, because the reformed Tom is boring. In the final scene of the last book, when Tom is going off to high school in Pennsylvania, Frankie is upset because Tom is leaving because, like JD, he feels that Tom's pranks add some excitement to his life, and the series closes with JD assuring Frankie that one day Tom will be home and up to his usual antics.
  • Wham Episode: Every book tends to have at least one chapter that's much more serious than all the rest, usually involving someone getting hurt or dying, and the characters learning some sort of Aesop about it. The hardest hitting one is probably the chapter in Book 1 when Abie Glassman dies.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The outlaw Cal Roberts takes a four-year-old child hostage and threatens to kill him if his demands are not met. After receiving the final list of demands, Uncle Mark realizes that Robert's intention is to murder the boy anyway for the sake of revenge.
  • The Woobie: Franky is an in-universe example, as his tragic backstory gains him loads of sympathy from nearly everyone and leads the Fitzgeralds to adopt him.
  • Young Entrepreneur: Tom sometimes follows this, when he's not trying to be a Honest John for a quick buck. In fact, the very first story deals with him charging other kids to view his family's brand new water closet. Other examples include taking kids on a river rafting trip and running a black marketcandy store out of a Jesuit boarding school.
  • Zany Scheme: Half the various plots of the series revolve around Tom pulling off one of these, usually for the purpose of taking someone's stuff or teaching them a lesson.

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