Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Sunday Book Review, July 22, 2012: Donald J. Sobol

Donald J. Sobol died last week (July 16, 2012, age 87 years), but Encyclopedia Brown lives on. 

Quick, what is Encyclopedia's real first name? (Answer at the end. Hint below:)

Madame L loved the Encyclopedia Brown stories as a child and has enjoyed re-reading some of them  since then.  Mr. Sobol said once that Encyclopedia Brown was "... perhaps, the boy I wanted to be – doing the things I wanted to read about but could not find in any book when I was 10.”

Even before Mr. Sobol wrote the Encyclopedia Brown stories, he wrote the Two-Minute Mysteries, which Madame L also enjoyed reading as a child and then again when she re-discovered them as an adult. 

Here's one of the mysteries, "Just a Glaring Error," from, which has several others:

     Detective Nose had just wrapped up a case in the upper town district of Trenton and since he was in the area decided to stop by and pay his friend Dr. Dean Lamar a visit at the museum. Dr. Dean was the director in charge at the museum and had been so for the past five years. By all accounts, he was doing a fantastic job.

      When Nose arrived at his friend's office, he saw that he was in the middle of looking over some résumés.

      "I'm looking to hire a tour guide to help with a new ancient Chinese exhibit that's due to arrive next week" said Dr. Dean. "I expect that this exhibit will attract hundreds of visitors and to tell you the truth, I'm a little worried that I may not be able to find a suitable guide to help with the attraction."

      Detective Nose decided to sit down and assist his comrade sort through the large stack of resumes. They were near the end of the pile when Dr. Dean pointed out a resume to Nose that he felt might be from a suitable candidate.

      Typed on a plain sheet of white paper was the resume of a man whose name was Geoffrey Montgomery. Under his qualifications he had a few relevant jobs listed with all the required references but it wasn't the job history that caught Dr. Dean's attention. Rather, under the heading of hobbies and interests, Geoff had listed that he was very much interested in the Chinese culture and had been studying their language, alphabet, geography, religions, history, and customs for close to ten years. The resume then went on to list other desirable traits and details that would be of some benefit to the position.

      "I think we may have found our candidate," said Dr. Dean. "With his previous job experience and his extensive background knowledge of the Chinese culture, I doubt I will be able to find anyone else that is more suited for the task. I think I'll give him a call and see if we can meet this afternoon."

      "I'd hold off on phoning him just yet if I were you. There's something off about his resume that leads me to believe that he is not being totally honest about his qualifications."

      What mistake did Geoffrey make in his resume?

(Hint: The Chinese use characters instead of letters for their written language.)

All the Two-Minute Mysteries are like this, with clues nicely hidden in the narrative, fun to try to figure out, and challenging enough for kids and adults.

(Answer to first question: Leroy. Leroy Brown.)

From the Virginian Pilot newspaper's commentary on Mr. Sobol's death:

   "The solutions to his stories were always so unexpected, so forehead-slappingly why-didn’t-I-think-of-that because in retrospect the answers were right in front of your face. They never followed a script, like say, 'Law & Order,' where the assailant is always the not-quite-distraught-enough character from the first scene.

     "This week has reopened a cold case for many Gen X-ers and Y-ers. Why do many readers feel such a deep affection for Encyclopedia Brown?

     "The clues are obvious, just like in one of his stories.

     "Everyone loves a mystery."

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