The Powerless Top Ten . . . er, Nine! #8
NUMBER 8: Encyclopedia Brown
In the bucolic town of Idaville, a boy with the unlikely name Encyclopedia Brown solved mysteries for a quarter a case. He operated out of his garage, and his cases usually involved the wrongs of bullying or petty theft (although the kid with the missing bike would hardly call the crime petty). Occasionally he might help out his father, the local police chief, but more often than not he worked for kids and sleuthed in a kid’s world.
Sound corny? Well, it was and I ate up every word.
I love mysteries, always have, and long before I discovered Sherlock Holmes or Sam Spade, I had Encyclopedia Brown. The title said everything you needed to know about him – Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective. But what I really loved about these books was the setting. I loved the feeling that these mysteries could happen in a neighborhood, any neighborhood, my neighborhood, even. Every great detective is defined by the place he inhabits – Holmes is foggy London and wind-swept moors. Spade is dark and rainy San Francisco. And Brown is the backyards and creeks of a small town suburb. The place infused every page of every Encyclopedia Brown book.
I’m a big-city mouse these days, but when I think about childhood I cannot help but see the green lawns and tree forts of the wild suburb. Streets were entire cities and an empty lot could be ball field one day and a no man’s land the next – the perfect place for a clever kid to hang up a shingle outside his garage and solve crimes for 25 cents a day, plus expenses.