Saturday, August 7, 2010

Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives by Michele Torrey, illustrated by Barbara Newman

Periodically, someone writes a series and touts it as the "new Encyclopedia Brown." Usually, this results in books ranging from the mildly interesting to the downright boring, but occasionally something comes near the mark. I don't think any of the publicity around Michele Torrey's new-to-the-US series, Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives, has made this particular comparison, but it could easily be made.

Drake Doyle loves science. He has his own laboratory and works hard to do all the things a professional scientist should. Nell Fossey is also a scientist, but her particular interest is wildlife - not surprising, since her mom is a biologist. Together, they race to solve cases, both scientific and ecological.

Each book has one specifically scientific mystery, one ecology-related mystery, and a few others thrown in for good measure. Each book also contains instructions on setting up your own lab, the scientific method, experiments and information related to the cases, and more information on the environmental issues. For example, the first casebook The Case of the Gasping Garbage, starts out with a case that Drake Doyle solves with scientific investigation, continues with Nell Fossey's efforts to save endangered frogs, and then Fossey solves a problem (a truck stuck under an overpass) and Doyle and Fossey together track down the sender of a mysterious love note.

I do have a couple reservations about this series. Some of the language felt rather repetitive and at times the pseudo-professional tones of Doyle and Fossey was annoying. The section at the end of each book on setting up your own lab was altered a little for each book, but was basically the same information. I would have been happy to have the section just in the first book, but I suppose if kids start from different points in the series it could be helpful to repeat this section.

I thought some of the environmental "cases" were rather unbelievable - Nell Fossey is researching penguins with her mom and then there just happens to be an oil spill. I was really thrown by the introduction of what seemed to be fantasy elements in the final book, The Case of the Crooked Carnival, where Nell Fossey is campaigning against invasive species and the example is something called "purple loosegoose" which hits a certain point in its growth cycle and then attacks people...

However, there is plenty of science, clues, mysteries, and funny bits to please most younger readers, even if the occasional adult has a few qualms. The illustrations have an enjoyable cartoonish quality, most of the facts and information in the stories is threaded well into the plot, and in general this is a good series. Torrey does an excellent job of dividing the cases between Doyle and Fossey without allowing either character to become a sidekick; neither does she endow them with superhuman qualities. Their easy access to adult society is reminiscient of Encyclopedia Brown and their everyday quirks and flaws make them realistic characters.

Verdict: Add to your series collection if you need additional mystery series besides Encyclopedia Brown and Cam Jansen. And who doesn't? [Update - these have become hugely popular in my library and I highly recommend them!]

Case of the gasping garbage
ISBN: 978-1402749605; Published July 2009 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher

Case of the mossy lake monster
ISBN: 978-1402749629; Published July 2009 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher

Case of the graveyard ghost
ISBN: 978-1402749636; Published October 2009 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher

Case of the crooked carnival
ISBN: 978-1402749650; Published June 2010 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher


Charlotte said...

I might try these on my young--thanks!

Jennifer said...

Yep, they're quite fun - nice for quick dips.