As a kid, I loved reading Encyclopedia Brown books, even when I was old enough that the mysteries were really simple to solve and I realized how absurd it was that Chief Brown needed his son’s help to solve cases. I didn’t read quite as much Hardy Boys, except for one summer when my younger brother and I plowed through the local library’s collection of them. Mac Burnett has taken both series, added a dash of Lemony Snicket and a knowing wink, and come up with “America’s next great kid detective:” Steve Brixton.
The first book, The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, introduces us to twelve-year-old Steve. Steve is obsessed with the Bailey Brothers Mysteries and always carries a copy of The Bailey Brothers’ Detective Handbook in his backpack. He has a secret book-box in which he’s stashed his detective notebook (including his list of the Fifty-Nine Greatest Books of All Time: the Handbook and the other 58 books in the Bailey Brothers series). He’s even a card-carrying detective, thanks to the twelve cereal box tops and $1.95 he’d mailed in for his Genuine Detective’s Investigation License.
Steve goes to the library to check out a book about Early American Needlework for a school report, and suddenly it seems the whole world is after him: men in black jumpsuits and greasepaint break rappel through the skylight, and a black van squeals up to the library doors. Without giving away too much of the plot, I can tell you that the rest of the story involves Librarians, a sailor disguise, running from the cops, and some very shady characters, who are all after “Detective” Steve Brixton. Ironically, Steve has to solve a mystery to prove that he’s not really a detective, clear his name and just maybe help save one of America’s most important secrets.
The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity was published in October 2009; a paperback version should be out this May. Unfortunately Steve Brixton’s “official website” at brixtonbrothers.com is still just a placeholder, though it promises to teach you tips and tricks to help you become a private investigator. You can, however, read an excerpt on Simon and Schuster’s site.
I came across the book at the library and was intrigued by the goofy text on the back cover and the over-the-top cover illustration. (Of course, you can’t judge a book by its cover, so I read it in a day.) It’s recommended for ages 8-12, but any adults who grew up on Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown are sure to get some laughs, too. I loved the way Steve discovers that what works for the Bailey Brothers doesn’t always work in real life; but at the same time the adults in Steve’s world are fairly ridiculous and easily misled and do act somewhat like characters from Encyclopedia Brown. It’s parody and homage at the same time.
Buy The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identityfrom Amazon, or check it out at your local library!
Wired: Secret agent librarians! Kid detectives! Fake moustaches! What’s not to love?
Tired: Not a whole lot, actually—Steve Brixton makes Encyclopedia’s job look easy.