Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mystery Solved! (Quickly)

Donald Sobol knew his audience.

Sobol, who passed away the other day at age 87, wrote the Encyclopedia Brown mini mysteries for decades, which engrossed adolescent boys (mainly) with the adventures of Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia, who was the son of the police chief in the fictional town of Idaville.

Encyclopedia solved mysteries, and he did it in short order, both in terms of time and in pages.

I was a fervent reader of the EB series as a kid, and I fit Sobol's demographic perfectly; i.e. I wasn't exactly the most patient boy around, nor did I have the comprehension to "solve" a mystery that lasted much longer than five or six pages.

Sobol knew that I was not the exception, and so he made sure his EB mysteries didn't last long enough for the reader to lose interest.

That's pretty much how long, in terms of pages, each Brown mystery lasted. The boy detective often would begin his "investigation" at the family dinner table, and sometimes just closing his eyes and thinking for a couple minutes did the trick.

The "crimes", of course, were of the petty variety; many bordered on being nothing more than pranks, often committed by Leroy's fellow kids or an occasional unscrupulous adult.

The hook in every mini mystery was that Sobol would drop clues within the narrative that the reader, if sharp-eyed enough, could easily identify and thus solve the case. The back of the book gave the answers.

I found myself turning to the back probably more often than I should have.

I didn't have the patience, not because the stories bored me but quite the opposite: I couldn't wait to read the next one.

Oh, how I read those Brown books, borrowed from the local or school libraries. I gobbled those things up.

Sometimes I'd even channel Leroy and actually figure out the mistake the bad guy (or girl) made, and the turning to the back of the book was done to confirm my findings.

But mostly I read them quickly, made a cursory look through the pages, and if something didn't jump out at me, off to the answer I went.

I remember one clue was that a letter supposedly written by an adult that would exonerate Leroy's suspect was dated June 31.

Get it?



Sobol was more than the author of the Brown series. He started in 1959 with something called Two Minute Mysteries, which were grown up crimes solved by a Dr. Haledjian. Then, in the early-1960s, Sobol decide to write for an audience with short attention spans, and Encyclopedia Brown was born.

Sobol also penned non-fiction pieces, often under different names.

But nothing will identify Sobol's legacy more than Leroy Brown and his friend Sally Kimball and arch enemy Bugs Meany.

To give you an idea of how non-violent and passive Leroy was, Sally was his bodyguard---the one kid who would stand up to the bully Bugs.

Reading Sobol's mini mysteries was unlike anything else I read. The books weren't long novels, and the answers weren't like anything found in a puzzle book. The series was a perfect amalgam of fiction and fun.

And they didn't last too long. Even now, I type Leroy.

Why? Because I'm too impatient to spell out Encyclopedia.

Sobol knew me and my kind well.

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