Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity by Mac Barnett

There's something wonderful about sitting down with a book, not particularly convinced one wants to read it, not even particularly enjoying the first few pages, and then looking up some indeterminate time later and realizing that you're almost halfway through. Not only have you ingested large portions of the book, but you really enjoyed yourself doing it.

Mac Barnett's The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity was recommended to me by a former co-worker, whom I am very sad about being former because she had the greatest book recommendations. I am concerned that I'm not going to be able to find kid's books about nefarious librarians without her assistance, being as she was also the one who turned me on to Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz, too.

Every Librarian is a highly trained agent. An expert in intelligence, counterintelligence, Boolean searching, and hand-to-hand combat.

Nefarious librarians and wanton library destruction (not the sprinklers!!) are about where the similarities to Alcatraz end, however. Steven Brixton (aka Steve) is a twelve-year-old wannabe detective. He lives by the Bailey Brothers' Detective Handbook, he has read the entire 58-book Bailey Brothers detective series multiple times, and he's even got his own detective ID card. This all turns out to be somewhat useful to him when he unwittingly becomes wrapped up in a dangerous scheme involving a librarian formerly known as la Gata de la Muerte (this is never translated in the text, but I got it and I laughed out loud), a mysterious Mr. E (say that one out loud) and a book about early American needlepoint.

We're spoofing boys' detective fiction here, my friends, and it's really fun. This will be mightily appreciated by adults who grew up with the Hardy Boys, and there's plenty in here aside from that direct spoof that an adult reading this book aloud to kids will thoroughly enjoy. Kids who are fans of detective fiction will get a kick out of this one too. There's not a page goes by without something funny or some clever allusion, but the book doesn't read like an exercise in Mac Barnett being excessively witty. It always stays just this side of the line of too clever for its own good -- though I'll admit I felt it was on the wrong side for the first few pages.

Steve himself is a very engaging character. I wondered a little at the end if Steve had really learned anything or grown at all through his adventure, but I came to the conclusion that he really does; and that, in my estimation, puts him leagues ahead of Frank and Joe Hardy as a character. And I'll admit to still loving Frank and Joe so that's saying a fair bit. Steve even reads as a genuine if mostly extremely clever kid, and there were things he did and said that rang true, even if some of the situations he finds himself in are too incredible to be believed. I cheered for him the whole way through.

Overall, recommended, especially as a read-aloud to kids around the ages of 8-12. I don't know if there's going to be another Brixton Brothers mystery; my suspicion is that packaging this book as No. 1 is part of the spoof. If there is, though, I'll read it.


Jill said...

I just put this on on my list yesterday, after reading a list of Edgar Award nominees! glad to hear you liked it - maybe I'll do a read-aloud with my kids - although my list of tbrs for them is getting ridiculously long these days. Glad you enjoyed it.

Unknown said...

Bwa ha ha! You know what this means, then, don't you? This doesn't count for the TBR karma you owe me ;)

You'll like this one, I think, read just to yourself or aloud.

Jill said...

Thanks ever so much for pointing that out. :-)

I think you got me enough with those other books you recently reviewed - or does it have to come back sevenfold or something? If so I'm in big trouble (collapsing bookshelves, to start with, plus that pesky limit on my library card...)

Unknown said...

It's possible we can call it even, for now. I'm sure the universe will agree that we're pretty hard on each other's TBRs. There should be no natural TBR disasters come out of this. :P

Jill said...

Sounds good to me! Although you know, a towering tbr pile is of course better than none at all. :)

Unknown said...

Oh, true. But you know what's the worst? A towering TBR pile upon which nothing appeals at the moment a book is needed. Then it is both guilt-inducing and useless.

Jill said...

Sounds like you need more books on your pile, so you'll have more to choose from. See what a favor I'm doing for you? :-)