Friday, July 20, 2012

Encyclopedia Brown

The Encyclopedia Brown tales weren't the first mystery stories I ever read, but they might have been the first that I could completely understand.

I had tried to read the Perry Mason books because I liked the TV show, but I was too young to understand the plots. (During the show's later years, Raymond Burr acknowledged that the story lines were sometimes too complex even for him.)

But the Encyclopedia Brown stories, written by Donald J. Sobol, who died this month, were fairly -- but not insultingly -- simple. And although I remember them as being clever, more than 40 years later I can't remember any of the telltale clues. Instead I remember Encyclopedia himself -- a nerd (before the term was invented) who lived in the town of Idaville and was quietly competent and fearless. I liked how he stood up to Bugs Meany, the neighborhood tough kid, and defeated him with logic. (Then again, Bugs was not exactly the Napoleon of Crime.)

While Encyclopedia was fearless, he wasn't foolhardy. One of the few details I remember from the Brown canon is the time he prepared for an interview with a suspect who had an intimidating dog by sticking some doggie treats in his pocket so he could surreptitiously slip a couple to the animal and in effect neutralize him. (When it came to paying to get information, Paul Drake was merely Encyclopedia Brown with a bigger allowance.)

You might have (correctly) guessed by now that although I lacked his probity, I did identify with Encyclopedia Brown, whose real name, by the way, was Leroy. And how could I not, being someone who, on a visit to the beach, was the kind of kid who was likely to have sand -- or even entire hourglasses -- kicked in his face?

I could never be a Schwarzenegger, let alone a Chicago gangsta.

But I could easily settle for being as "bad bad" as Leroy Brown of Idaville.

1 comment:

Judy Berman said...

An excellent tribute, Mark. Your descriptions convince me that I've missed some superb stories.