The Boy Detective Fails

( 19 )

Overview

In the twilight of a mysterious childhood full of wonder, Billy Argo, boy detective, is brokenhearted to find that his younger sister and crime-solving partner, Caroline, has committed suicide. Ten years later, Billy, age thirty, returns from an extended stay at St. Vitus' Hospital for the Mentally Ill to discover the world full of unimagi-nable strangeness: office buildings vanish without reason, small animals turn up without their heads, and cruel villains ride city buses to ...

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The Boy Detective Fails

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Overview

In the twilight of a mysterious childhood full of wonder, Billy Argo, boy detective, is brokenhearted to find that his younger sister and crime-solving partner, Caroline, has committed suicide. Ten years later, Billy, age thirty, returns from an extended stay at St. Vitus' Hospital for the Mentally Ill to discover the world full of unimagi-nable strangeness: office buildings vanish without reason, small animals turn up without their heads, and cruel villains ride city buses to complete their evil schemes.

Lost within this unwelcoming place, Billy finds the companionship of two lonely, extraordinary children, Effie and Gus Mumford--one a science fair genius, the other a charming, silent bully. With a nearly forgotten bravery, Billy treads from the unendurable boredom of a telemarketing job, stumbles into the awkward beauty of a desperate pickpocket named Penny Maple, and confronts the nearly impossible solution to the mystery of his sister's death. Along a path laden with hidden clues and codes that dare the reader to help Billy decipher the mysteries he encounters, the boy detective may learn the greatest secret of all: the necessity of the unknown.

Kirkus Reviews,June 15, 2006
*STARRED REVIEW*
"What happens when a Hardy Boy grows up?
Mood is everything here, and Meno tunes it like a master, even though such a task initially appears impossible. Billy Argo, resident boy detective of his small New Jersey burg, seems to have inherited the aura of brains, fearlessness and rigid moral compass that always served the likes of Encyclopedia Brown in such good stead. Billy solves crimes and foils villains without breaking a sweat, aided by younger sister Caroline and heavyset friend Fenton. Their successes are trumpeted in newspaper headlines straight out of kids' adventure books ('Boy Detective Solves Fatal Orphanage Arson'), prompting suspicions that what the author has in mind is a long and ironic riff on children's fiction. But the book takes a dark turn as the years pass. Billy continues solving crimes and generally being a prodigy ('College Now For Boy Detective'), but Caroline slips into depression and ultimately commits suicide. Her brother winds up in an asylum as a result, not re-entering the world until he's 30. This is the point at which Meno, a tricky postmodernist who likes to embed separate story capsules on blank pages and leave nonsense words in the margins, might be expected to throw the curtain back, showing that our hero was crazy all along, no crimes were solved and his whole life was a lie. Instead, the author gives Billy a gallery of rogues to combat and even sends him to investigate the Convocation of Evil at a local hotel ('Featured Panel: To Wear a Mask?'). Meno sets himself a complicated task, marooning his straight-arrow, pulp-fiction protagonist in a world uglier than the Bobbsey Twins ever faced but refusing to go for satire. Instead, the author takes his compulsive investigator at face value. A full-tilt collision of wish-fulfillment and unrequited desires that's thrilling, yet almost unbearably sad."

BOOKLIST, July 2006
*STARRED REVIEW*
Comedic, imaginative, empathic, and romantic, Meno, whose diverse works of fiction include Hairstyles of the Damned (2004) and Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir (2005), is particularly attuned to the intensity of childhood and its lifelong resonance. In this cartoony and dreamlike novel, Billy Argo of Gotham, New Jersey, receives a True-Life Junior Detective Kit for his tenth birthday, and in no time, the gifted boy detective becomes front-page news as he thwarts comic-book villains with the help of his younger sister, Caroline. But Caroline commits suicide,

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Playing such mysteries as "The Case of the Brown Bunny" against the mysteries of mortality and mankind's capacity for evil, the latest from Meno (Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir) presents former child sleuth Billy Argo at 30, having just finished a 10-year stint in a mental hospital, where he was confined after his teenage sister Caroline's suicide. Unhappy, painfully shy and doped up on antianxiety drugs, Billy arrives in New York City and is admitted to a psych halfway house. Haunted by the mystery of his sister's death and feeling that a lapse in his sleuthing may be to blame, Billy is determined to find out the reason for her suicide and to punish those responsible. He soon finds allies in two bright and unpopular children who live across the street, and clues to relevant past cases from lifelong arch-enemy Professor Von Golum (who happens to live across the hall). Not all the plot strands pan out, and the effect is more impressionistic than narrative (various codes strewn throughout have their own digressive pleasures). But the story of Billy's search for truth, love and redemption is surprising and absorbing. Swaddled in melancholy and gentle humor, it builds in power as the clues pile up. (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In their youth, Billy Argo, his kid sister Caroline, and their friend Fenton solved a series of puzzling crimes with only a cheap detective kit and their imaginations. After Billy goes to college to study criminology, Caroline commits suicide and guilt-ridden Billy attempts it, ending up heavily sedated in a mental hospital. Ten years later, he connects with two other outcast, nerdy sorts to help solve the mysteries going on in their lives and in that of a kleptomaniac widow who is as fragile and traumatized as he is. The one mystery he can't solve is Caroline's death. This is postmodern fiction with a head and a heart, addressing such depressing issues as suicide, death, loneliness, failure, anomie, and guilt with compassion, humor, and even whimsy. Meno poses the existential question, "Is it more frightening to accept our lives as they are than it is to entertain a fantasy of hope?" and leads one to believe that hope may not be a fantasy after all. Meno's best work yet; highly recommended for both public and academic libraries.-Jim Dwyer, California State Univ. Lib., Chico Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Following up on his coming-of-age tale, Hairstyles of the Damned (Akashic, 2004), Meno has created a wry and somewhat surreal novel chronicling the adventures of Billy Argo, boy detective. Given a True-Life Junior Detective Kit by a relative, he becomes a local celebrity when he solves a string of crimes of a type unfamiliar to most mystery-book heroes. The story turns even darker when Billy suffers a breakdown following the suicide of his younger sister and fellow crime solver. By turns comic and strange, the novel follows Billy through his travails in the fictitious city of Gotham, NJ. Teens will gravitate to the weirdness of this place where city buses, wax museums, school yards, small headless animals, and evildoers with missing body parts abound. Billy's dreamy encounters challenge his courage and inadvertently bring resolution to the mystery of his sister's death. The characters along the way are memorable and the bizarreness builds throughout. Readers' appetite for solving puzzles also increases as clues are dropped to help Billy in solving the big puzzle of the unknown. Always a challenge for adults, young or old, Meno is a talent worth following.-Thomas Fortin, Fargo Public Library, ND Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
What happens when a Hardy Boy grows up?Mood is everything here, and Meno (Bluebirds Used to Croon in the Choir, 2005, etc.) tunes it like a master, even though such a task initially appears impossible. Billy Argo, resident boy detective of his small New Jersey burg, seems to have inherited the aura of brains, fearlessness and rigid moral compass that always served the likes of Encyclopedia Brown in such good stead. Billy solves crimes and foils villains without breaking a sweat, aided by younger sister Caroline and heavyset friend Fenton. Their successes are trumpeted in newsA full-tilt collision of wish-fulfillment and unrequited desires that's thrilling, yet almost unbearably sad.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781933354101
  • Publisher: Akashic Books
  • Publication date: 9/15/2006
  • Series: Punk Planet Books Series
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 707,736
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.50 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Joe Meno is the best-selling author of the novels Hairstyles of the Damned, The Boy Detective Fails, How the Hula Girl Sings, and Tender As Hellfire. He was the winner of the 2003 Nelson Algren Award for short fiction and is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College Chicago.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 19 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    Anyone who grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown or the Hardy Boys

    Anyone who grew up reading Encyclopedia Brown or the Hardy Boys will be delighted by this book.

    The story is a compelling examination of familiar characters.  This is done in a wonderfully artful and compelling way. 

    Highly recommended. 

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  • Posted May 6, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    good and bad

    The characters in this novel are wonderfully flawed. Very funny and interesting characters. Unfortunately, the story is disjointed and disappointing. If the author left out the supernatural elements and wrote a realistic story with these same characters, I would love it.

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  • Posted December 27, 2010

    Everything you want in a book

    A very very entertaining read. Recommended to anyone that enjoyed The Catcher in the Rye, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2007

    Heartbreaking/Amazing

    I was a little weary of reading this book because I thought it might be somewhat cliche, but it was completely opposite. The entire book was beautiful, but made you view beauty in a completely different light. I cried through the entire end of the book, but it leaves you with this grateful feeling when you're finished. If you ever have the time, read this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2007

    This Book Was Great

    This book had this whole Hardy Boys meets Ted Bundy thing with the mentally ill watching. I'm kind of a rough guy, but this book made my eyes water a little or I just forgot to take my pills. Anyway buy it and play along. I think you'll thank me. Also Joe's other books are good reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2006

    fantastic book

    this book was amazing. i love it so much the sentences were properly put together, you could actually feel the pain, the agony, the mystery, the riddles, the laughter ,the joy, the love, everything was so amazing!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 7, 2006

    Excellent read

    Fantastic book. Honestly, it's pretty depressing at first however, towards the end it really comes together and is a great book with a happy ending. It's honest about life. Life is not perfect, and Joe Meno doesn't pretend it is. None the less, a heart warming tale about life and its unexpected turns.

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