When he was a youngster, Billy Argo was the best teenage sleuth Gotham City, New Jersey, had ever seen. That is, until his sister killed herself, sending Billy to the mental institution for a decade. Now that he's out, the boy detective has one last mystery to solve...
Back when I was a lad, sometime around the time the dog was first domesticated, I was a big fan of kid's mysteries like the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and the stupendous Encyclopedia Brown. They were soon lost to the sands of time as I gravitated toward more adult fare. Never did I ponder what might have happened to Encyclopedia Brown when he grew up.
The Boy Detective Fails is a quirky little book, written in the style of the mysteries I mentioned above, but with much more adult themes. In some ways, it reminds me of Sarah Gran's Claire DeWitt books, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead and Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway. Adulthood was not kind to the boy detective, not even after he gets out of the mental institution.
The mystery that seems to plague the boy detective is what caused his sister's suicide. On some level, though, I think the real mystery Billy Argo has to solve is the mystery of adulthood and finding his place in a world that no longer welcomes him as it once did. Even his old foes like Von Golum find themselves without purpose besides tormenting the other denizens of the group home they share.
Joe Meno does a great job using the style of the books he's drawn his inspiration from. Once Billy befriends the Mumford kids and becomes entwined with Penny Maple, the book is very hard to put down.
The post-modern quirks might irk some readers but I thought they were used well within the context of the story and didn't feel like gimmicky crap.
The Boy Detective Fails is a charming, poignant tale that should appeal to fans of the children's mysteries of yesteryear. It's an easy four star read.