Friday, November 26, 2010

Review of The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

Barnett, Mac. The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity (#1, The Brixton Brothers). Illustrated by Adam Rex. Simon & Schuster, 2009.

This was published last year, but better read late than never, especially as it features secret ninja-like Librarians with a capital L.

12-year-old Steve Brixton is a big fan of the Bailey Brothers detective novels, a fictional version of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries, not only reading them but taking much of their wisdom about detecting and derring-do to heart. But when a visit to the library plunges him into a sinister web of mystery and intrigue, Steve and his chum Dana discover that much of the advice in the Bailey Brothers' Detective Handbook, from using disguises to how to land a "haymaker punch," doesn't really work in real life. Luckily, Steve has wonderful luck, a stalwart chum, and bones apparently made of rubber, as he keeps falling from great heights.

Steve's faith in the dated, stilted Bailey Brothers novels and handbook to teach him everything he needs to know about detecting is hilarious, both because it's clearly misguided and also because, strangely, everyone he runs across, from criminals to policemen, takes it for granted that he must be a detective, even though Steve himself insists he's just a kid. There's something delightful about adults taking his ludicrous mail-order Bailey Brothers detective license seriously and saying things like "You private eyes are all the same. Too good for us regular police - until you get into some real trouble, that is. Then you come crying to us for help."

The wild and improbable adventures (including being chased by a bookmobile, being trapped in a library by those ninja Librarians, being locked in the hold of a boat, and much more) are reminiscent of classic kids' mystery series, as are the short and choppy sentences and self-consciously corny dialogue. Excerpts from the Bailey Brothers' Detective Handbook add a bit of old-fashioned flair, as in "The Bailey Brothers aren't just ace detectives and terrific students - they're swell athletes, too!"

Rex Adams' drawings were created digitally but look just like the retro pen and ink drawings in a typical Hardy Boys book; all that's missing is a roadster or coupe (as the boys get around on bicycles). The endpapers are sprinkled with small illustrations of Steve and Dana being chased by a giant bird and parachuting away from a mid-air explosion.

I don't know if kids will understand the goofy allusions to the Hardy Boys, but it seems certain that they will be as charmed by the humor and adventure in this first installment of the Brixton Brothers series as I was. Now I'm ready to read #2, The Ghostwriter Secret, which came out last month.

Recommended for kids ages 9 to 12.

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