Random Musings: A review of The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy


Whispering Mummy

The junior detective firm of The Three Investigators— Jupiter Jones (first investigator), Pete Crenshaw (second investigator) and Bob Andrews (records and research) receives two letters seeking their services. One is from a Mrs. Mildred Banfry, a friend of a previous client, seeking help in finding her lost Abyssinian cat.

The other is from Alfred Hitchcock, with whom the boys have formed an association, asking them to help his friend, Professor Robert Yarborough, determine how a 3,000-year-old mummy could possibly be whispering to him.

Pete is in favor of searching for the lost cat, but Jupe, who has the tendency to outvote his partners 1-2, decides that the Three Investigators’ time is better spent determining the reasons why Professor Yarborough— and only Professor Yarborough— should hear a mummy whisper.

Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators in The Whispering of the Whispering Mummy is the third book in the Three Investigators mystery series. Written in 1965 by series creator Robert Arthur, it was inspired by his wife, Joan Vaczek, who’d lived in Egypt from 1935-1940, according to a Three Investigators website run by Arthur’s daughter, Elizabeth.

Professor Yarborough has in his private museum the mummy of Ra-Orkon, which he’d discovered 25 years earlier. He wasn’t able to study it then because of other commitments, but now has the time and has arranged to have it delivered to his home so he can examine it in detail and perhaps learn who Ra-Orkon was. The last thing he expected was for the mummy to talk to him.

And it isn’t his imagination, because Jupe also heard the whispering when he disguised himself as the professor.

But there’s more to Ra-Orkon than his alleged postmortem murmuring, including a supposed curse. Professor Yarborough dismisses it out off hand, but something causes a statue of the jackal god Anubis to topple, almost striking him, a boulder rolls down a hill toward him and the boys and his butler is confronted by what appears to be Anubis in the flesh.


Anubis confronts Professor Yarborough’s butler.

Shortly afterward, the mummy turns up missing. Was Ro-Orkon stolen or did he pull a Boris Karloff? The Three Investigators are determined to discover what’s become of him.

And Pete’s going to find out what happened to that cat.

One of the great things about the Three Investigators books is that Jupe, Pete and Bob were depicted as independent detectives, seeking out cases on their own or being actively recruited, rather than being associated with (and sometimes getting cases from) a famous adult detective.

They were also clever and inventive, especially Jupe. He lives with his aunt and uncle, who operate the Jones Salvage Yard, and he repairs and/or repurposes various items that come into the yard but can’t be sold. One of Jupe’s inventions debuts in this book and comes in handy over the course of the series. More on that in a bit.

Jupe, Pete and Bob are capable investigators, but they’re also ordinary boys who enjoy messing with each other.

Case in point: Jupe isn’t present when the two letters arrive at Headquarters, a mobile home trailer in the Jones Salvage Yard that’s cleverly hidden under piles of salvage and only accessible through a variety of secret passages. Bob and Pete conspire to show him the letter from Mrs. Banfry, get him interested in the search for the lost cat and then show him the letter from Hitchcock. They’ll then insist they can’t work on the second case until they’ve solved the first.

Which would suit Pete just fine.

They also use the See-All, a make-shift periscope Jupe devised to see outside of Headquarters, to check if Jupe has returned from his errand. Pete spots him walking his bike and he and Bob decide to impress Jupe with their “deduction” that he had a flat tire.


Pete uses the See-All.

When Jupe arrives at Headquarters, he seems suitably impressed at their “deductions.”

“Very good,” he says. “Such ability should not be wasted in looking for a lost cat.”

Which leaves Pete and Bob utterly discombobulated.

All the more so when Jupe suggests his partners’ “advanced ability in the art of deductive reasoning and ratiocination” be used to go after bigger game, “such as the mystery of a 3,000-year-old mummy that whispers cryptic languages in an unknown language to its owner.”

How does he do it?

Mind reading, he claims.

In good time, Jupe explains his “trick”, which he suspects might also answer the question of the mummy’s ability to speak.

Except it doesn’t.

When Pete spied on Jupe with the See-All, he assumed Jupe was listening to a transistor radio as he walked back to the salvage yard. He wasn’t. Jupe had built some walkie-talkies (relative rarities in 1965), one of which he’d built into the loudspeaker attached to the phone in Headquarters. He’d heard everything Pete and Bob were saying.

Those walkie-talkies would come in very handy on multiple occasions.

Jupe’s logical conclusion was that someone had hidden a small radio receiving set in the mummy’s case in order to make Ra-Orkon appear to whisper. However, there’s nothing of the sort in the mummy’s case.

Yet something is creating the illusion that the mummy is whispering.

Unless of course a 3,000 year old Egyptian citizen actually discovered a way to speak from beyond the grave and chose to talk to just one man rather than, you know, holding a press conference.

But then maybe he’s shy.

It’s been years since I last read The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, so I didn’t remember all the details. Turns out I was right about the character I pegged as the guilty party, but was wrong in thinking there was someone behind him (I was thinking of another book in the series in that regard).

And I’d completely forgotten the clever solution to the mystery of the mummy’s mumblings.

The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy is one of the best books in the Three Investigators series and an enjoyable read.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.



Random Musings: Adventuring with Rick Brant


Rocket's Shadow

In many ways, Rick Brant is your typical teenager, living with his parents, sister and dog.

In other ways, he’s far from typical. Rick doesn’t live in a city or suburb, but on Spindrift Island, off the coast of New Jersey; his father is a famous scientist, whose work includes rocketry (and who leads a team of other scientists in a laboratory on the island) and Rick himself owns and flies a Piper Cub airplane.

And he gets himself involved in thrilling adventures.

Rick is the central character in the Rick Brant Electronic Adventure (changed to Science Adventure in later volumes and printings) series of 23 books published by Grosset & Dunlap between 1947 and 1968, with a 24th book released by another publisher in 1990. They were written by Harold L. Goodwin (with the first three books co-authored by Peter J. Harkins) under the pen name John Blaine.

I recently read the first three books, The Rocket’s Shadow; The Lost City and Sea Gold. The Rocket’s Shadow concerns the efforts of Dr. Harston Brant and his team to send a rocket to the Moon in order to earn a $2 million grant. However, the project has been plagued by “accidents” and outside interference.

Rick befriends an ex-Marine about his own age named Don “Scotty” Scott, who’d lied about his age when he’d enlisted. Dr. Brant invites the orphaned Scotty to live on Spindrift Island and hires him as a guard. Rick and Scotty investigate whether one of the scientists might be a saboteur.


Lost City

In The Lost City, Rick travels to Tibet by way of India with Scotty and two of the Spindrift Island scientists. There, they plan to communicate with Dr. Brant by bouncing their signal off the Moon.

But someone doesn’t want the mission to succeed and works to stop it by sabotage, theft and other means.

En route to their destination, the team stumbles upon the lost city. However, its inhabitants don’t welcome tourists.

Sea Gold

In Sea Gold, Rick and Scotty seek summer jobs at a sea mining plant in Crayville, Connecticut. However, not only do some of the local fishermen oppose the project, believing it will poison the waters, but someone specifically doesn’t want Rick working there.

I’m enjoying this series and look forward to reading more, when and if I get hold of them. These are well-written, engaging tales and they don’t stretch credulity, which isn’t always the case with “juvenile” adventure series books.

Yes, Rick owns his own plane, but it was established in The Rocket’s Shadow that he bought it by forming a company and selling shares to the scientists to raise the necessary funds. He pays them back by running errands for them and ferrying them around.

O.K., it may have been a stretch for Rick to go to Tibet with the two more experienced scientists, but Dr. and Mrs. Brant might also have felt it would have been a good life experience. And they had no reason to expect trouble.

Also, Rick, like many teenagers, was seeking a summer job when he got embroiled in the doings in and around Crayville.

I’ve owned these Rick Brant books for years, but only got around to reading them in recent days. Why now?

In large part because of a conversation at the Great Lakes Nostalgia Convention in Kalamazoo last month. That conversation concerned to what degree Jonny Quest is based on/influenced by Rick Brant. It gave me an excuse to read my Rick Brant books and to finally get around to buying the season one (1964-1965) Jonny Quest DVD box set.

While I haven’t finished watching Jonny Quest and have only read three Rick Brant books, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jonny Quest is only loosely inspired by Rick Brant, if at all.

Yes, both live on islands with scientist fathers, but Jonny’s island is somewhere off the coast of Florida, not New Jersey. What’s more, tidal flats separate Spindrift Island from the mainland; when the tide is low, you can walk from one to the other. I’ve yet to see a Jonny Quest episode that shows his island is in a similar location relative to the mainland.

Spindrift Island also contains a farm, run by another family “on shares”, as well as a large forest. Plus, a team of scientists works in the lab on the island. And, of course, Rick lives with his parents, his sister, Barby, Scotty and his dog, Dismal.

Spindrift Island

Jonny, for his part, has neither a mother nor a sister. He lives with his father, his tutor/bodyguard, Roger “Race” Bannon, his best friend, Hadji and his dog, Bandit. I’ve seen no indication that other people live on Jonny’s island, but maybe I’ve missed something.

Both Hadji and Rick’s friend Chahda are from India and came to the U.S. after helping their respective American friends. However, Hadji is a constant presence while Chahda only appears in the second, fourth, sixth, eighth, tenth and fourteenth books in the series, based on what I’ve read online (he’s mentioned in Sea Gold).

Rick Brant also doesn’t have a character comparable to Race Bannon, who’s about the same age as Dr. Quest.

Plus, Jonny and Hadji are younger than the high school-age Rick and Scotty.

Jonny Quest is definitely an exciting series, but to what degree it’s a cousin to the Rick Brant books, I’ll leave to your own interpretation. I’ll call it a second cousin.

In fact, Jonny Quest probably owes as much— if not more— to Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy as it does to Rick Brant. Martin Grams says as much here


and points out that the initial scenes from the Jonny Quest closing credits include clips from a five-minute Jack Armstrong pilot.

Martin, who brought up the Rick Brant/Jonny Quest parallels in Kalamazoo, also discusses Rick Brant in the above blog entry. However, if you plan to read the first three books, you might want to hold off on reading his blog until you do; he includes some spoilers.

Regardless of to what degree Rick Brant inspired Jonny Quest, if you like one, you’ll probably like the other. And if you’re a fan of “juvenile” adventure books, Rick Brant deserves a place on your bookshelf.

Copyright 2017 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A review of The Mystery of Cabin Island



Frank and Joe Hardy, along with their friends, Chet Morton and Biff Hooper, spend their Christmas vacation in the eponymous cabin on Cabin Island, a small, private island in a cove near their hometown of Bayport and find themselves embroiled in mystery.

There are two versions of The Mystery of Cabin Island, the original, ghost written by Leslie McFarlane (considered the best of the Hardy Boys ghost writers) and published in 1929; and the revised version, ghost written by Andrew Svenson. I read both versions and both were enjoyable, but I liked the original slightly better, despite some purple prose and unnecessary narrative flourishes.

The mysteries were much the same in both versions, but in the original, Frank and Joe never returned home during the course of the story, unlike the revised version. All the action took place on the island, on the ice of the bay or in and around a small village.

In both versions, the owner of Cabin Island, Elroy Jefferson, offers the boys the use of his cabin and tells them a man named George Hanleigh, who’s eager to buy, has no right to be on the property.

The revised Mystery of Cabin Island gets into the story much faster than the original. Frank and Joe learn on page 1 that Jefferson has granted them permission to stay on Cabin Island. A few pages later, while checking out the island, they have a confrontation with Hanleigh, one which combines their first and second confrontations in the original.

Also, in the revised version, a confrontation with another ice boat takes place after the boys’ run-in with Hanleigh, which makes more sense given that the boys in the other ice boat are relatively minor characters.

In the original version, Frank, Joe and Chet decide to check out Cabin Island while ice boating, are chased away by Hanleigh, whom they assume is a caretaker and later, by in one of those amazing coincidences that seem to follow Frank and Joe Hardy everywhere they go, Mr. Jefferson contacts the youthful sleuths because he wants to give them a belated reward for having recovered his stolen car.

The original version involves a stolen set of valuable stamps, which aren’t even mentioned until chapter 11 (and not by Jefferson, but by a minor character with no direct connection to either him or the Hardy brothers); in the revised version, Jefferson tells the boys (in chapter three) that his grandson, Johnny, has disappeared and mentions that the boy loves Cabin Island. He doesn’t tell Frank and Joe to look for him, but does say he has a feeling it’ll take a boy to find a boy.

He also happens to mention a set of stolen medals, though only because he’d brought up the subject of other detectives, whom Frank and Joe had asked about. Later, he tells Frank and Joe not to bother with searching for the medals and admits that Johnny is probably chasing after clues.

Ironically, the boys would never have learned about the stolen stamps in the original version if Hanleigh hadn’t broken into the cabin and hidden their food while they were out, causing them to stop in the little village for supplies. In the course of their conversation, the storekeeper brought the subject up.

Why the missing items were changed from stamps to medals, I’ve no idea, but the latter are brought to the boys’ attention in more realistic circumstances.

The stakes are higher in the revised version of the story, because not only do Frank and Joe know early on about the missing valuables (though they have no reason to believe there’s any direct connection to Cabin Island), but they also discover that Mr. Jefferson’s home has been burglarized.

The next day, they discovered that someone had broken into their boathouse and scattered the supplies they’d put in their ice boat in preparation for their trip.

In both versions, the boys find and solve a cipher, which leads them to the missing valuables. However, the code messages were different in each version of the book, as was the means of decoding. The second version of the code was actually a bit more clever.

One of the weaknesses of the Hardy Boys books is that their father, Fenton Hardy, usually has some connection with their current case. While that held true in the revised version of this book, it wasn’t true in the original. He simply made a brief appearance. I liked the fact that he wasn’t connected to the case in the original story.

Why two versions? Starting in 1959, Harriet Adams, daughter of Stratemeyer Syndicate founder Edward Stratemeyer, began revising the then-38 Hardy Boys books, bringing them up to date. Unfortunately, many of the revised books were watered down, some all but eviscerated, compared to their original versions.

The revised Mystery of Cabin Island is one of the better updates. It reads at a faster pace and offers several mysteries to challenge Frank, Joe and their friends. Still, it could have retained some of the ancillary adventures of the original.

In any event, The Mystery of Cabin Island is the sort of book to read on a late December day.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: A review of The Mystery of the Talking Skull



After seeing an item in the paper about an auction, Jupiter Jones, leader of the Three Investigators, a junior detective firm in Rocky Beach, California, convinces his partners, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, that they should attend. “Every new experience helps broaden our background as investigators,” he says.

At the auction, Jupe decides to bid on an old theatrical trunk. His winning $1 bid ends up costing the boys plenty in terms of danger in The Mystery of the Talking Skull, the 11th book in the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators Mystery Series.

The trunk belonged to a magician called The Great Gulliver and almost immediately after it becomes the boys’ property, a lot of people start to take an interest in it. Moments after the sale, an old woman tries to buy it for $25, but Jupe refuses to sell.

The mystery takes a turn toward the otherworldly when the boys discover a key component of the Great Gulliver’s act— a skull named Socrates that could supposedly talk. A skull that gets their undivided attention when it sneezes.


The Three Investigators meet Socrates.

Later, when Jupe is alone with the skull at night, it tells him to go to a certain address. When he does, he learns from a Gypsy woman named Zelda that Gulliver “has vanished from the world of men. He is dead, yet he lives.”

She also asks Jupe to help find Gulliver and bring him back.


Jupe and Zelda.

The boys learn that Gulliver spent time in jail for fortune telling and that his cellmate, Spike Neely, was a now-deceased bank robber who hid $50,000 somewhere. Jupe concludes that Gulliver vanished because criminals thought he knew the location of the money. He also realizes those criminals have likely reached the same conclusion about the Three Investigators, especially since the criminals had the opportunity to search the trunk and didn’t find any clue to the money’s location. For their own safety, the boys must figure out where Spike Neely hid the money and, if possible, what became of the Great Gulliver.

As I’ve said before, The Three Investigators is one of the best juvenile mystery series. The series, which ran from 1964 to 1987, was created by Robert Arthur, whose credits include co-creation of the radio program The Mysterious Traveler and editing or ghost-editing various Alfred Hitchcock short story anthologies.

The Mystery of the Talking Skull was the last Three Investigators book Arthur wrote before his death in 1969. It was also the first book in the series that I read, back in fourth grade, so I have a particular fondness for it. I reread the book recently and found that the story remains engaging. I will say the truth about one particular subplot seems obvious and I can’t help but wonder: Did I recognize that truth as a kid or accept things at face value, as the boys do?

In fairness to Jupe, once he learns he’s been tricked, he mentally kicks himself for not having noticed the obvious red flags.

Robert Arthur respected his readers’ intelligence, which is one reason I can still read and enjoy a Three Investigators book today. Bearing that in mind, maybe he expected readers to be one step ahead of the boys regarding that particular subplot.

Young readers probably also enjoyed the challenge of trying to decipher the hidden message Jupe is sure exists within the words of a short letter from Spike Neely to Gulliver. Really alert readers may have caught a clue in the frontispiece.

In addition to a well crafted mystery, The Mystery of the Talking Skull has some nice character moments. The whip smart Jupe falls for a practical joke by his uncle because he jumps to conclusions. He also misreads a key clue for the same reason. Though, his reasoning involving the clue is relatively sound.

All in all, The Mystery of the Talking Skull is an enjoyable read.

Copyright 2016 Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: Reviewing The Mill Creek Irregulars: Special Detectives


Mill Creek Irregulars

In August 1922, two adventurous boys spending two weeks in the country find themselves embroiled in a mystery involving an unpleasant neighbor, his stepdaughter and a pair of mysterious strangers.

The Mill Creek Irregulars: Special Detectives by August Derleth is a 1959 book that follows the adventures of Steve Grendon and Simoleon “Sim” Jones in Sac Prairie, Wisconsin and the outlying countryside (a fictionalized version of Derleth’s home town of Sauk City). Steve is invited to stay with his Great Uncle Joe and Great Aunt Lou about six or seven miles out in the country and invites Sim along.

They don’t set out to investigate anything; they just plan to relax and have fun (primarily by fishing as far as Sim is concerned). However, during a visit to Steve’s aunt and uncle, Gus Elker, the justice of the peace, says he believes something’s going on at the nearby farm of Jake Riley; and Lou observes that she hasn’t seen Riley’s stepdaughter, Molly Burns, for quite a spell.

What’s more, Molly will come into an inheritance on her upcoming 18th birthday.

The adults realize that Steve and Sim, being relatively unknown to Jake Riley, would be the best people to keep an eye on his place without making him unduly suspicious (Gus isn’t quite sure what steps he can take in his official capacity). Steve— a fan of Sherlock Holmes and detective stories in general— and Sim agree to look into the matter (Sim more reluctantly than Steve). In honor of the Baker Street Irregulars, they name themselves the Mill Creek Irregulars.

On their own and in conjunction with Steve’s various relatives (Steve’s grandfather becomes an honorary Irregular), they discover that Jake Riley is keeping very close tabs on Molly, who is definitely afraid of something and seems unwilling to take independent action, even when Jake goes into the general store without her.

But that’s not the only mystery. Steve and Sim also observe two strangers in blue serge suits keeping an eye on the Riley farm and asking questions about other residents of the community. Yet they don’t seem particularly interested in either Jake or Molly.

The boys decide they need to know more about Jake Riley, so Sim, who owns a fingerprint kit, purchases a package Jake had handled at the store in order to obtain his fingerprint.

Once they have it, however, they’re reluctant to bring it to Mike Kurth, the village marshal, because kids have generally played practical jokes on him.

He’s also particularly hard to convince about anything, according to Steve.

They realize their friend Pete Bandheim is the perfect person to approach Mike because Pete appears to be guileless. Pete spins a yarn about his father’s barber shop having been robbed, adding that he got fingerprints from the “robbery” (of hair tonic).

The report Mike gets back (and which Pete managed to glimpse) reveals that Jake Riley has a past criminal record, but Pete’s yarn leads to more complications. Mike decides to keep a weather eye on the barber shop in case the “criminal” returns and the boys are also worried that he’ll connect the Jacob Riley of the fingerprint report with the Jake Riley out in the country, go after him and ruin their plans.

On top of that, the men in the blue serge suits know Steve and Sim have been spying on the Riley farm with their telescope and Steve makes the mistake of getting Jake Riley’s attention at the general store.

With Molly’s birthday fast approaching, Sim and Steve realize they need to act soon to determine whether she really is a prisoner in her own home and how to get her away from Jake without him being able to come after her. But the wild cards in their plan include the two mysterious strangers, the excessively vigilant Mike Kurth and Jake Riley’s own unpredictability.

I first read The Mill Creek Irregulars: Special Detectives in the summer of 2009, while relaxing on a lounge chair with a large lake in front of me. That’s the perfect environment in which to read this story. The setting is very bucolic and though the story takes place two decades into the 20th century, it has one foot in the 19th (Joe and Lou’s house has no electricity on the second floor and people are as likely to drive horse-drawn wagons as they are cars).

Derleth also makes Sac Prairie and environs come alive, describing, through Steve’s first-person narration, the sights, sounds and smells of the countryside. Here’s a passage from pages 72-73:

We went on along the ridge… High overhead a pair of redtail hawks wheeled and soared, moving up, up with the currents of air, sometimes screaming. In the south, a long, disorderly file of crows was heading in toward the river bottoms, cawing to one another in that kind of talk crows always make. Ovenbirds sang in the deep woods, and veeries, and a wood thrush was beginning to spill his lyric songs in the shadowed places deep in the wooded valleys. A south wind kept the insects away, and the smell of the woods… filled all the air with the wild sweetness and pungence of places where men seldom walked and the trees were left to grow undisturbed for scores of years.

Derleth also populates the book with a memorable cast of characters (with the exception of a few “walk-ons” like Steve’s unnamed sister).

Steve appears to be a bit overweight, but describes it as muscle. He’s also somewhat impulsive, sometimes blurting out things he shouldn’t or drawing unnecessary attention to himself (like he did with Jake Riley).

Sim looks on the dark side of everything. He also doesn’t like having his plans changed. He’s upset when Steve shows up early for their planned fishing trip; more upset when Steve says he’s come to invite him to the country (and has to be convinced there’s good fishing at the millpond); annoyed when Joe shows up hours late to take them to the country and convinced they’ll never get a chance to fish at the millpond when they lose the opportunity to do so their first day.

Pete, according to Steve, is “sharp as a needle”, though he kept that trait hidden. As Steve says of Pete, “He liked to pretend he was so dumb he didn’t know enough to come in out of the rain. He would let his mouth hang open and little, and get a sort of glazed look in his eyes, when he was busing talking somebody out on a limb so he could saw it off.”

Both Steve and Pete have elements of their characters that remind me of Jupiter Jones of the Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators mystery series (1964-1987). Jupe is the stocky leader (like Steve) and often “plays dumb”, like Pete, using the skills he acquired as a child actor.

That’s not to say that Three Investigators creator Robert Arthur modeled Jupe after a combination of Steve and Pete. After all, the rotund Nero Wolfe had been solving crimes since the 30s and any number of boys (real and fictional) have “played dumb” to outfox an adversary. Off the top of my head, I recall Alexander Bumstead doing it in one of the Blondie movies of the 1940s.

For the record, Pete Crenshaw of The Three Investigators is, like Sim, sometimes reluctant to do any investigating. However, he’s less pessimistic, overall.

And none of the boys remind me of the studious third investigator, Bob Andrews.

For their part, Steve and Sim have been compared to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn.

The Mill Creek Irregulars: Special Detectives is the second adventure involving Steve and Sim, but unlike the case with The Three Investigators (or Brains Benton or Rick Brant or Ken Holt or The Hardy Boys or Jerry Todd or other such titles), the 10 books featuring Steve and Sim (and sometimes Pete) don’t have an “umbrella title” on the front cover. Still, even though the word “Irregulars” is only part of the titles of two of the books, the books are referred to as the Mill Creek Irregulars series.

I’ve never read (or even seen) any of the other nine books in the series (except images of the covers online), but as I said before, this one is the type to be read while looking out at a lake (or any other bucolic setting) during the summer.

Copyright 2016, Patrick Keating.

Random Musings: The Brixton Brothers recalls series books of yesteryear


Brixton Brothers #1

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.