“It’s a sad day in Idaville,” said one of my librarian friends – a day that saw the passing of author Donald J. Sobol. He brought us the boy detective Encyclopedia Brown, who could think through a mystery during dinner and solve it before dessert. And the better the meal, the grander the mystery solved. The Browns honored the Prince Spaghetti Night tradition on Wednesdays, which is when young Leroy put a stop to vandals, petty thieves and parking scofflaws. One night chef Emeril Lagasse came to the house and whipped up a mess of jambalaya, and after three helpings Encyclopedia leaped up from the table shouting, “I know where she is! I know where she is!” “She” being Amelia Earhart.
This didn’t happen in any of Sobol’s books, but it’s the centerpiece of my new fanfiction collection, “Encyclopedia Brown Kicks It Up A Notch,” available in paperback and ebook versions soon through the Food Network website. And I’m glad to say that I’m not the only one trying to reimagine the Brown Detective Agency in a gritty new world. This piece is the grittiest I’ve found so far – “Pawns of the Game,” in which Brown and sidekick Sally Kimball search for their nemesis Bugs Meany and are kidnapped inside the haunted mansion:
He shook his head to clear it and examined a hole. Something about the holes seemed strange. They were definitely broken inwards, that made sense. They seemed random enough, exceptâ€¦
“Sally!” He exclaimed. “These holes are all about the same length apart from each other. That means someone made them deliberately!”
No one answered.
“Sally?” He called out. “Did you chicken out on me?” He shined his flashlight around the room. At last the beam fell on her.
She was lying on the floor, as if something had struck her. He raced over to her, and knelt by her side. He reached his hand to her neck to check for a pulse. His hand hit something hard. He shined his flashlight at her neck and saw the syringe sticking out.
He whipped his light up and pointed it wildly around the room. “Bugs!” He called out. “You’ve taken things too far this time.”
Also worthy of note is “The Case of the Ruby Earrings,” which features the single most unusual question ever posed to the Brown Detective Agency, courtesy of local thespian Tanya Taira:
Tanya said, “I start off with a small question for you.” She paused to yank out a purple wig and put it on, “If you gender flip my character which old cartoon character would you gets?”
Sally replied, “That purple hair means you gender-flipped Rio from Jem and the Holograms.”
The real mystery here is why Sally Kimball remembers Jem and the Holograms, Parenthetically, Jem’s signature song was called “Jem” and featured lyrics like “Jem is my name,” making her the most self-referential artist this side of Snoop Dogg. Nice to see her pop up in an Encyclopedia Brown fanfic.
I don’t have Jem in my stories, but I have something that every franchise needs these days: gritty post-apocalyptic action. Check out my movie poster:
Encyclopedia and Sally will figure out where the energy vampires hid the stolen skateboard, and how a three-eyed, glowing Bugs Meany managed to sell a phony baseball card to the leader of the outland rebels. The catch is, though – we’ll learn that Bugs Meany and Encyclopedia Brown are the same person! That’s why he was able to figure out every one of Bugs’s crimes… because he committed them!
Which will set the scene for the sequel, where Encyclopedia (now played by Russell Crowe) is sent to a sanitarium to deal with his crippling psychosis, and emerges strong enough to solve mysteries again, eventually winning the Nobel Prize.
Hollywood, you know you want to call me.