The Sleuths of My Youth: Encyclopedia Brown

I’ve loved detective fiction since I was a child.  In this series, we’ll examine some of these great detectives I encountered in childhood and set the stage for a lifetime of loving, reading, and watching mysteries.

One of the first detectives I read growing up was Encyclopedia Brown by Donald Sobol. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown was a kid that rather than selling lemonade to make money, set himself as a pint sized Sherlock Holmes, though his rates are more reminiscent of Philip Marlowe’s $25 a day plus expense, as Encyclopedia charges 25 cents a day plus expenses. Encyclopedia’s head is full of all kinds of strange facts and he’s the son of the Idaville Chief of Police which allows him some convenient access to crime and police cases.

Each one of the Encyclopedia Brown books I read growing up included ten short mysteries, one per chapter.  Each book featured Encyclopedia solving cases with the assistance of his junior partner, Sally. Being a juvenile series, the mysteries didn’t involve the gruesome crimes of adult novels and TV series, but rather solving thefts and busting up con games by older kids, and occasionally pitching in to help dear old dad with some local case that had him baffled.

Sobol managed to create memorable settings and characters. Sally Kimball is probably as good a sidekick as anyone in detective fiction. Her presence protects Encyclopedia Brown from being pummeled by Bugs Meany, leader of a local gang called the Tigers. Meany throughout the series remained Encyclopedia Brown’s nemesis and occasional client.

Encyclopedia would usually solve the case through deduction, fueled by his broad base of knowledge. I would flip to the back of the book to find out Encyclopedia had solved the case and would learn some interesting factoid that had been stored in Encyclopedia’s head, thus making the books technically educational.

The Encyclopedia Brown series began in 1963, with the latest book from author Donald Sobol, coming out last year. The books appeal seems to be in successfully mixing the essence of childhood with the fun and excitement of a detective story. And for me, it also really built a whole fascination with the whole realm of detection and crime solving.

I saw a review on Amazon of Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt written by a child nine years ago o. He wrote, ” I like this book a lot. It has taught me a lot about solving cases. I enjoy this book because I want to be a detective just like him one day.” I think this not only sums up what I thought of Encyclopedia Brown when I was growing up, but what countless other children have thought as they read the the adventures of Encyclopedia Brown over the past 49 years.

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