Twelve-Year-Old Steve Brixton is a huge fan of the Bailey Brothers’ Mystery Series by MacArthur Bart. He considers them the best detective stories of all time. And as far as Steve is concerned, The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook is the greatest book of all time.
He owns all 59 books in the series (including The Detective Handbook); has read most of them twice (and some three times); and after sending away 12 cereal box tops and $1.95 to an address in Kentucky, he received a Bailey Brothers’ “Genuine Detective’s Investigation License” which proclaimed him to be “one ace sleuth.”
He’s also a detective in his own right.
Except no one told him that. Until he finds himself embroiled in a case involving a national treasure, with everyone he meets— police, criminals, and secret agent librarians— insisting that he’s a real detective. They’re also convinced he’s working for the bad guy.
That’s the situation in The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, the first of the three (so far) books in the Brixton Brothers series by Mac Barnett, with illustrations by Adam Rex.
The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity and the second book in the series, The Ghostwriter Secret (I’ve yet to read the third, It Happened on a Train) offer just the right mix of humor, a good-natured poke at series books of years gone by (especially The Hardy Boys) and genuine mysteries.
The Brixton Brothers series not only pays tribute to the Hardy Boys via Steve’s love of his favorite series, The Bailey Brothers; and through selected passages from various Bailey Brothers books written in the vein of the Hardy Boys; but also with endpapers very similar to those in the Hardy Boys books. What’s more, “The Missing Chum” and “It Happened at Midnight”, chapters in The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity and The Ghostwriter Secret, respectively, are very similar to two Hardy Boys titles: The Missing Chums and What Happened at Midnight.
Some of the good-natured pokes at the Hardy Boys comes in the juxtaposition of a portion of Bailey Brothers text with Steve’s own situation. For instance, in The Ghostwriter Secret, Steve consults The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook about common clues that can crack a case. These, we’re told, include gorilla masks, exotic birds and broken swords.
Steve, walking along a road where a crime may have been committed, sees sand, leaves, an orange peel and a dirty green visor.
Much of the humor comes via Steve’s personality. His mother, Carol, is dating an Ocean Park police officer named Rick, whom Steve doesn’t like. At all. So when Steve makes a list of suspects in a particular mystery, Rick is always on the list. The evidence or motive he assigns to Rick never varies:
He’s also not impressed with Rick’s skills as a police officer.
In The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, a note Steve leaves for his Mom tells her he won’t be home that weekend because he’s wanted for treason; and that he took the last Sprite from the fridge.
He also reflects on his three big problems: One, he’s being hunted by “trigger-happy” librarians; two, he’s being hunted by the police; three, he has a social studies report due Monday.
Steve may emulate the Frank and Joe Hardy-like Bailey Brothers, but unlike them, he’s a real kid deep down. And most kids would probably consider a social studies report (or any other kind) to be a big problem.
Steve also insists on addressing his best friend, Dana Villalon, by the long obsolete term “chum”, because that’s the term Shawn and Kevin Bailey (and likewise Frank and Joe Hardy) use when referring to their best friend. Dana doesn’t like it.
We learn in The Ghostwriter Secret that Dana is a “silent partner” in the Brixton Brothers Detective Agency. In other words, “he wanted nothing to do with the Brixton Brothers Detective Agency.”
Unfortunately for Dana, he always gets embroiled in Steve’s cases. Usually by being captured by the bad guys.
As of The Ghostwriter Secret, Steve has a business card. Frank and Joe Hardy never used one, so I wonder if that’s a subtle nod to the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators Mystery Series. The Three Investigators (Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews) used business cards. Steve has something else in common with them, too. Unlike Kevin and Shawn Bailey (and Frank and Joe Hardy), Steve isn’t the son of a world’s greatest detective. Nor are any of the Three Investigators. Like them, Steve solves his own cases.
An antagonistic older boy named Nate Rangle appears in The Ghostwriter Secret. He only makes a brief appearance, so it remains to be seen whether he’ll be a recurring nemesis like Skinny Norris was to the Three Investigators (I don’t recall Frank and Joe Hardy having a slightly older adversary).
When Steve doesn’t have a motive for a suspect, he puts down ???, which also happened to be the symbol of the Three Investigators. That could, however, be a coincidence.
Amid all the humor and not so subtle references to The Hardy Boys, these books do involve actual mysteries, as I said. Steve is depicted as smart and observant, and Barnett plays fair with the reader when it comes to planting clues.
I enjoyed reading those two Brixton Brothers books, and plan to introduce them to younger family members.
You can read more about the Brixton Brothers series at Brixtonbrothers.com.
Copyright 2012 Patrick Keating