Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno

Remember Encyclopedia Brown? Well, let’s take Encyclopedia and bring him to adulthood. Our now-grown boy detective is named Billy Argo. Billy found his calling early in life, after being given a detective set as a birthday gift. Along with kid sister, Caroline as his right hand, and their neighbor, Fenton, along as sidekick, Billy and Co., consistently thwarted the surprisingly considerable criminal element of Gotham City, New Jersey. However, tragedy befalls Caroline and Billy enters a mental institution. And so our story picks up with Billy, released after 15 years in the loony bin, trying to find his way in the world as it is now while still bearing a terrible burden of guilt. He moves to a halfway house only to find his old nemesis, Dr. Von Gollum, is a fellow resident and is still plotting Billy’s demise. (Von Gollum, an aging mad scientist-type, makes lists that say things like “To Do Today: Take bus to the store. Buy poison. Destroy the Boy Detective!”). Billy gets a job at a hilariously bizarre wig factory whose telephone sales team targets the very old and the very ill. He pops Ativan like tic-tacs, befriends a pair of neighbor children, Effie, a brainy, unpopular, remarkably self-aware little girl and her younger brother Gus, the school bully, who has stopped talking and only communicates by writing notes and tries to help them solve a mystery of their own, the only thing Billy really knows how to do. Joe Meno really knocked my socks off with this book. It’s funny, sweet, and sad and comes with a decoder on the back flap that you can use to help Billy.

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