Saxby Smart: The Curse of the Ancient Mask and Other Case Files
Roaring Book Press, 2009 169 pgs
Saxby Smart series #1
Saxby Smart supplies the private detective needs to the young people of his suburban town. Three separate mysteries are presented, worked through and solved by Saxby with the help of his brainy friend Izzy. Saxby methodically solves each case by taking careful notes, which are presented within the context of the story, and making hypothesis's. In each instance the situation seems hopeless and the desperate child calls on Saxby as a last resort. The first mystery is that of the title. Saxby must figure out if a mask belonging to a schoolmate's father is truly cursed and therefor the cause of her Dad having troubles at work, jeopardizing his job and the family's main source of income. The second case takes place in Saxby's class. A student's essay is destroyed by a mysterious purple goo. As the investigation continues, further destruction ensues, eventually impacting Saxby himself. For the final case Saxby must locate a missing broach belonging to the town's biggest busy body, a crabby old lady who threatens to report a friend to the police if the missing item isn't retrieved. In all three case the mystery is solved and the resolution is offered at the end of the story. Two more editions complete the series, although more are available in the author's native United Kingdom.
I was looking for a mystery for my third/fourth grade book group that would not be too overwhelming and would teach them how to read a mystery; looking for clues, weeding out red-herrings, and making their own deductions. This series is a perfect fit. A bit more developed than Cam Jansen and a bit simpler than Encyclopedia Brown, this is a great choice for my group. On the first page of the story Saxby invites the reader to be his sidekick, thus engaging them from the very beginning. Readers then attempt to solve the mystery right along with Saxby and we track him and his process every step of the way. The mysteries are all solvable, yet are not too easy. The format of the book itself is also perfect for this age group. Even though there are three distinct stories in the volume, each story is still broken into short chapters. The typeface is clear and large, the margins are wide, and simple cartoon-like illustrations are liberally sprinkled throughout the book. Saxy himself is a likable character, although not particularly developed, but then again, its not that kind of a book. Although the series was originally published in the UK (as Saxby Smart: School Boy Detective), it does not feel particularly British and will appeal to a young American audience seamlessly. A solid choice for young mystery readers who have exhausted all of the A-Z Mysteries and are looking for something new.