fiction / first meeting / Mystery


Encyclopedia Brown

I think I preferred the old covers (click on this one to follow the link).

Last night while I was making dinner, and the First Reader was standing at the sink washing up, we were talking books. I’d told him earlier in the day that I wasn’t going to finish David Pascoe’s Baptism by Fire in time to review it today. It’s not that it’s bad, I told him, quite the opposite. It’s emotionally fraught, in the beginning, and I keep wanting to give it more time and not rush my reading. I haven’t had time. Then, when I went in the kitchen, I took my tablet with me to stream a little TV while I was doing the dishes, but the First Reader came and took over that chore. He looked at the tiny screen. “Ah, Sherlockia!”

“No, Poirot…” I turned it off, because I’d rather talk to him. I use television to occupy my brain when my hands are in a task like dishes, or sorting balloons. Conversation is better.

“British detective of a certain era,” he pointed out. “You know what my first detective story was?”

I misheard him with the running water and putting chicken medallions into very hot melted butter, “Wilkie Collins? The Moonstone?”

“I don’t think I’ve read any Collins, although the name is familiar. No, Encyclopedia Brown.”

While I was chopping the mushrooms and onions for the Marsala, we talked about how we’d both loved Encyclopedia Brown. He could remember the plot and solution to one of the stories, involving a vanished violin, and the solution, where the inimitable Brown caught the thief in a lie about squirrels backing down trees (Squirrels go down a tree headfirst, if you observe). It’s been fifty years, he thinks, since he read that story. We both shared a similar woe, in that we had never been able to find enough stories of the child detective, who both of us had felt a kinship with.

Danny Dunn

These, sadly, are not available in ebook

We both, it turned out, had devoured any Danny Dunn books we could find (very few, for me, that almost twenty-year gap in our ages meant that those books had been through a lot of rough handling by the time I came along to read at my library). We’d both found Tom Swift corny, although I still read them because, well, I read everything. Even Nancy Drew.

As I told the first reader, while I was standing shoulder to shoulder with him drying dishes, Nancy Drew had been alien to me. I had been so much a tomboy, and this character was girlish in ways I didn’t understand and didn’t sympathize with. I’d much rather read other stories, although the Hardy Boys I found repetitive after a few books.

“Did you ever read any Bobbsey Twins?” he asked me, while I whisked flour into the roux.

“I wanted that ice boat so bad. The idea of being able to sail on the frozen lake was just… It caught me.”

“Me too. Although I also wanted enough ice to sail it on. Ohio and Kentucky didn’t freeze up like that. I think Alan Dean Foster used the ice boat in his series, can’t remember the name, although it might have been Ice World.”

And then dinner was ready, and the topic drifted off books, and into food, wine, and teasing the dog who was doing her best puppy-eyes at us for a treat.

So who was your first detective?

Click on cover for your free copy!

Click on cover for your free copy!

And before I forget! My mystery story, which lacks a true detective, is free from today through Sept 16, please pick up a copy, and pass the word on to others. Then later, if you would give it an honest review? Is all the thanks I can hope for!

Alan Dean Foster

(click on cover to follow link)


17 thoughts on “Sherlockia

    • I don’t remember that one 😀 But then again, I never managed to find very many of them. All of the children’s series I mention in this post were cheesy, to say the least, but fond memories.


  1. I hadn’t thought about Encyclopedia Brown in ages. That was my first detective stories as well. It had enough of an impact that I started writing mystery stories featuring my classmates. In fact, the first person I made the villain was the class bully. He was less than appreciative of my work for some odd reason.

    In reality, they weren’t really mysteries, but I was in third grade or something. I didn’t really understand how to structure a plot, but my classmates back in the day seemed to enjoy them well enough and I had a lot of fun. 🙂


    • I wrote Memories of the Abyss, and a short that isn’t published, but I have a cozy mystery with an unlikely detective at the back of my head wanting out. I have always read more mystery than SF (up to a decade ago) so I think it’s inevitable to write what you read.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. First? Hmm…it’s a jumble of Encyclopedia, Hardy Boys, Boxcar Children, and about three other young detective troupes. The first adult mystery I read was GK Chesterton’s Father Brown story–the one where he meets Flambeau, but I can’t recall the title. And Sherlock.

    I’ve never heard of Danny Dunn, but that looks like an entertaining book.


    • My son is reading the Boxcar Children now, I think I bought 3 or 4 for him the last trip to the used bookstore. He might like EB, come to think of it! The science in Danny Dunn is so outdated it would be alien to him.


  3. Would be a toss up between Hardy Boys and Encyclopedia Brown for me. I think I read the first 20 or so HB’s, or at least as many of the those that I could find. EB was not as much, they were hard to find.

    I still remember one EB story that involved a stolen watch.


  4. My favorite adult detective is Amelia Peabody (Elizabeth Peters is the author). I did enjoy the Homer Price stories that I read, and the few Hardy Boys stories I got ahold of, but yes, they and Nancy Drew were repetitive (like a lot of romance stories). I have to admit, though, that I don’t read mysteries much.


  5. I don’t remember which books were my first. Could have been Bobbsey Twins, Danny Dunn, Secret Seven, Encyclopedia Brown, I don’t know. I really enjoyed the Homer Price books, too.

    Knowing me, and my mom, it’s entirely possible that my first mystery books were Agatha Christie, though. 😉


  6. Brother Cadfael- he was on PBS– and then Miss Marple; I didn’t get the books for at least a decade to fifteen years, but they pulled me into such a different world for the joy of solving the case. Knowing that stuff like that– but better, I knew the book was better because my mom mentioned it when she recognized the stories– is probably why I wouldn’t read the really horrible “Dick and Jane” level stories.

    For books, my first detetective was either Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys; rather liked Nancy Drew– all the girly stuff was not just alien to me, but to anybody I knew at six or seven, since it was 40 years out of date. Probably why I had no problem flipping over to fantasy and then back to books too old to be “relevant,” like Agatha Christie. (I was 30 before it really hit me that she’d been writing in the “now,” and even that took Dorthy L. Sawyers

    Didn’t get to devour the Encyclopedia Brown ones until about two years after that. Other than having seen squirrels back down a tree– they just have to have a good reason, like they’re arguing with the one going down head-first or they have a huge freaking walnut in their mouth, and we had a walnut tree in the yard– it was delightful. Biggest suspension of disbelief was that people would actually listen to someone who knew what they were talking about, but was a kid.


  7. Cedar I greatly enjoyed Memories and like the rest of your short stories I wish it was much longer. Thanks for the story.


  8. Oh my gosh, I read every Encyclopedia Brown, Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Danny Dunn book I could get my hands on. I especially loved the Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys crossovers. Tom Swift wasn’t available for me or I would have gotten those, too. Now my son is obsessed with Encyclopedia Brown and there’s just not enough books for him.


  9. I was a Trixie Belden addict at a certain age. I liked the older ones better. I winced when they tried to update things, because it had the feel of a given era. Trying to make a book in the “indeterminate now” is kind of a mistake, and I think it worked better as being what it was when the stories started. But it turns out, a LOT of Trixie Belden fans disagree with me.


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