Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Brixton Brothers

by Mac Barnett
Simon & Shuster Children's Publishing (October 2009)
Ages 9-12

The title of this first installment of Mac Barnett's wisecracking, tongue-in-cheek gumshoe series says it all: THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY is a swell send-up of kid detective novels that's ace all the way. Barnett takes stereotypical characters and situations and, like all good satire, pushes them to the extreme. It's a fun, cheeky approach to reinventing tired and simplistic genre tropes

Barnett's easy style and the short-clipped narrative of his kid detective, Steve Brixton, milk this genre for all it's worth and then some. It's brilliant, really, the way Barnett riffs on old HARDY BOYS mysteries by incorporating a fictional brother duo—the Bailey Brothers—as a guide for Steve to navigate the ins and outs of detecting. 

The mystery that Steve must solve is fantastically far-fetched: After being assigned an essay on quilting, he finds himself the target of some badass librarians who are out to recover a top secret quilt that they believe Steve has been hired to steal for the mysterious Mr. E. It's corny without being cheesy, in large part because Barnett does what every smart criminal does: he hides in plain sight. He's telling us what he's doing as he's doing it.

Whenever Steve runs up against a baddie, why he whips out The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook for tips. When he finds himself in a tight spot, the Bailey Brothers bail him out with the following advice:
Jumping from high places isn't so bad—as long as you know how to fall! Shawn and Kevin Bailey are always leaping from old water towers or speeding trains. The key is rolling when you hit the ground!
As happens throughout the book, The Bailey Brothers Detective Handbook then goes on to give advice that falls apart in real life. It's a fun spoof! With lots of exclamations! And keen ideas! That don't work!

The only problem I have with the book is not with the book, but the next one. How can Mac Barnett sustain the freshness of THE CASE OF THE CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY? Will retro get old? Can Barnett top the top of his game? I guess I'll have to wait until this fall when the next Brixton Brothers mystery—THE GHOSTWRITER SECRET hits the shelves.

(Oh--and Adam Rex who illustrated the book, he's ace too!)

Source: I bought my paperback copy at Orca Books.