The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity
Adam Rex (ill.)
Simon and Schuster, 2009 179 pgs
Mac Barnett, better known for his clever picture books (Oh, No!, or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, 2010, etc.) began his career with this tongue-in-cheek mystery series paying homage to the Hardy Boys. Steve Brixton is an amateur detective and antiquated mystery series, The Bailey Brothers', biggest fan. While researching early American quilts for a research project, Steve sets off an alarm, waging a full-on librarian ninja attack. It turns out that librarians have a secret and elite spy society, in fact the most powerful in the world (the secret's now out!). He must outwit the librarians, the local police, including his mother's new bumbling boyfriend, and an anonymous searcher appropriately named Mr. E (get it: Mr E = mystery). Everyone is trying to locate a very valuable antique American quilt which has all of America's secrets sewn into it. After much adventure and misadventure, involving kidnapping, near drowning, and conflicts with various thugs, Steve, with his best friend Dana along for the ride, manage to locate the missing quilt and reveal the identity of Mr. E. A proper detective at last, Steve decides to open the Brixton Brothers Detective Agency (no, he has no brother, but likes the name). Three more mysteries follow in the series.
Having grown-up reading Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys I really enjoyed The Brixton Brothers. Barnett takes the sensibilities of the 1950s/1960s kids detective series genre and applies it to modern day, adding humor to a great effect. The mystery is solid with enough possible suspects to make it interesting, but not too many to make it confusing. Adventure abounds in Steve's escapades. He is constantly facing life-threatening and melodramatic situations, which he pulls himself out of by his wits and ingenuity. The story always stays on a cartoon-like level and never gets too scary or realistic. Boys especially will enjoy this book, but girls will like it too. The chapters are a comfortable length, end in a cliff-hanger, and contain at least one illustration from the illustrious Adam Rex. Not being familiar with The Hardy Boys, today's readers may not get the humor. Its subtle and feels almost like an inside joke. That said, kids won't notice or care. The Brixton Brothers works great as an adventurous mystery and no prior knowledge of fifty-year-old children's detective books is necessary. Super cool spy librarians are icing on the cake!