Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Donald J. Sobol - RIP

I'm saddened to have learned about the passing of Donald J. Sobol, the creator and author of the Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective mystery series. He passed away on July 11th, at age 87 of gastric lymphoma. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the Encyclopedia Brown series, of which a new book, perhaps Sobol's last, Encyclopedia Brown and The Soccer Scheme, will debut next year.

The stories are set in Idaville, Florida. Leroy Brown is the son of the town's police chief and is nicknamed "Encyclopedia" for his incredible knowledge of obscure facts, which he uses to solve mysteries - he is also  referred to as "Young Sherlock Holmes in Sneakers". He often helps his father solve crimes whenever the chief sits down at the dinner table and discusses a case that has him baffled. As a result, the success rate of the Idaville Police Department is extraordinary.

Encyclopedia has his own detective agency set up in a shed by his parent's house. He fee is one quarter, plus "expenses". His right hand/chief aide/hired muscle is Sally Kimball, an attractive blond who may or may not be his would-be girlfriend, but is very useful in keeping the local bully (and Encyclopedia Brown's arch nemesis) Bugs Meany at bay. Meany wears a ridiculous paper crown hat and leads The Tigers street gang but is surprisingly intelligent, able to think up complex scams to bilk money out of local kids and adults (he once even set up a rival detective agency as a ruse to get money from gullible would-be clients and sully Encyclopedia's reputation).

The format of each book is the same - all short stories, each ending with a challenge to the reader (similar to Ellery Queen), with solutions offered in the back. The first story is always an introduction to new readers, with "E.B" solving one of his Dad's perplexing cases at the dinner table. The second story always introduces Bugs Meaney, while the third introduces Sally.  The mysteries themselves are different from what you would find in a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventure in that they are set in the proper scale - this is why I preferred this series over the other two when I was a kid : Encyclopedia Brown actually solved puzzles, whereas the other series were primarily chases - Nancy, Joe and Frank eavesdropped or stumbled into something suspicious and stumbled their way through what was happening; Encyclopedia Brown was the real thinking machine. Fans who "don't like mysteries" have stumbled across an Encyclopedia Brown book.

I did not know he lived a middle-class existence and was not a rich man when he died, or that he had mistakenly sold the TV/movie rights for just $25,000 in the late 1970s (the late-80s HBO TV series was made without his involvement). Still and all, I still love those books.

Donald J Sobol - RIP.

Mike Gruss's Tribute

Recommended Reads: The Encyclopedia Brown Mystery Collection (Scholastic) - omnibus reprints 3 books, including the cookbook - Encyclopedia Brown Takes The Cake(!)

                                   Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (aka "Encyclopedia Brown and The Exploding Toilet"/ "Encyclopedia Brown and The Exploding Plumbing") (Penguin Books)

                                   Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective - the one that started it all.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I added Mike's tribute - I'm surprised at the dry spell of material devoted to Sobol's death.