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.
Steve, who lives in the Pacific coast town of Ocean Park, owns all 59 books in the series (including The Detective Handbook) and has read most of them twice (and some three times). 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 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 four (so far) books in the Brixton Brothers series by Mac Barnett, with illustrations by Adam Rex (the fourth book is illustrated by Matthew Myers).
The books in the series— The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity, The Ghostwriter Secret, It Happened on a Train and Danger Goes Berserk— offer just the right mix of humor— via a good-natured poke at series books of decades past, especially The Hardy Boys— and genuine mysteries. In fact, The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity and It Happened on a Train were both nominated for Edgar Awards by the Mystery Writers of America in the “Best Juvenile” category.
The Brixton Brothers series pays tribute to The Hardy Boys through Steve’s love of The Bailey Brothers, selected passages from various Bailey Brothers books written in the vein of the Hardy Boys and with endpapers 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, recall two Hardy Boys titles: The Missing Chums and What Happened at Midnight.
Some of the good-natured pokes at The Hardy Boys come 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 it. 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: he’s being hunted by “trigger-happy” librarians; he’s being hunted by the police and 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.
He’s also an only child. He calls his detective agency “Brixton Brothers” because, as he said in It Happened on a Train, “It just sounds cooler, okay?”
Because Shawn and Kevin Bailey (and likewise Frank and Joe Hardy) used the word when referring to their best friend, Steve insists on addressing his best friend, Dana Villalon, by the long obsolete term “chum.” 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.
In It Happened on a Train, Steve meets Claire Marriner, a 12-year-old fellow passenger on a train to San Diego who indirectly gets him involved in a mystery (even though he insists he’s retired). He also finds her to be unlike the girls in the Bailey Brothers books (they don’t yell at the Bailey Brothers), but more interesting.
In 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 great detective. Nor are any of the Three Investigators. Like them, Steve solves his own cases. They’re also based on the West Coast (Rocky Beach, California), like Steve. Frank and Joe Hardy live on the East Coast.
I previously talked about The Three Investigators here: https://rickkeatingsrandommusings.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/random-musings-a-look-back-at-the-three-investigators/
When Steve doesn’t have a motive for a suspect, he puts down ???, which also happened to be the symbol of the Three Investigators. However, that could be a coincidence.
As I said, these books involve actual mysteries. Steve is depicted as smart and observant and Barnett plays fair with the reader when it comes to planting clues.
I enjoyed reading the Brixton Brothers books, which I first discovered in 2012, and hope there will be more in the series; we’re told at the end of Danger Goes Berserk (2012) that Steve would soon receive a Message from a Maniac. It’s been four years, but I’m hopeful Barnett has just put The Brixton Brothers on the back burner for a time and will return to the series.
You can read more about The Brixton Brothers at Brixtonbrothers.com.
Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.