Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Saxby Smart, Private Detective in The Curse of the Ancient Mask and other case files by Simon Cheshire, illustrated by R. W. Alley

Saxby Smart has been called the new Encyclopedia Brown. He certainly is an updated, more modern boy detective. Like Encyclopedia, he offers readers a chance to solve his cases and uses logic and research provide clues and ultimately the answer. His stories are much longer - only three to a book, rather than the usual ten of Encyclopedia's cases, but he asks readers questions throughout the story, not just at the end.

Unlike Encyclopedia Brown, Saxby never does anything a normal child couldn't do. Adults don't automatically listen to him, he does his detecting after school, and he has to tell his parents where he's going. Saxby's not an encyclopedic genius either; his friend Isobel does all his research and Saxby admits that he "skip[s] stuff" and he "can't tell a fulcrum from a plate of spaghetti. His main qualification seems to be the number of detective stories he's read, including Sherlock Holmes, Philip Marlowe, and Nancy Drew.

In other words, Saxby is boring. He tediously takes the reader through every part of his lengthy thinking processes, every deduction, every logical step. There are some humorous moments in the story, but while this would make an excellent accompanying text for a child's course in logic, it's not much of a story. The reader's conclusion is that if they can figure out the answer, any other child could and since Saxby doesn't do any of his own research or much actual detecting, he's pretty superfluous. Encyclopedia still rules!

Verdict: Beginning chapter readers are always looking for mysteries, but I would stick to the classic Encyclopedia Brown and the newer, popular A to Z Mysteries and others.

ISBN: 978-1596434745; Published April 2009 by Roaring Brook; Borrowed from the library

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