When I was a little kid, there were books about boy geniuses with names like Encyclopedia Brown. Or the Hardy Boys. And maybe because I never stopped being a kid, I never wondered what happened if one of these child detectives grew up. Oh, but author Joe Meno did.
The Boy Detective Fails is an odd book. It's not a YA book but, because the protagonist, Billy Argo, who is often just referred to throughout the book as the "boy detective," is stilted after spending a decade in a mental ward, late teens can empathize with his world view. Billy wants to believe that justice is a noble pursuit, that no criminal goes unpunished, and that he can solve any mystery. All except one: the death of his sister after he went off to college. Billy believes she was murdered though all the evidence points towards suicide (the Argo parents are so self-absorbed, another staple of YA literature).
Billy, at thirty, finds himself having to navigate a strange new world - his first real job (a soul-crushing one involving phone marketing fake hairpieces to the old and dying), his first real crush with a mystery pickpocket who is obsessed with pink, and discovering what life has in store for him. Sounds like YA fiction after all.
So, back to the quirky goodness of the book. Many of Billy's childhood enemies are still around, though their remain comically inept. And there are strange codes to be found--metafictionally, as tiny print on the bottom of every page, and in notes in the story. No one is normal, no one is quite who they say they are. Buildings disappear. Love and death are mysteries that challenge Billy, who has relied on numbing drugs to deal with the angst of growing up.
I love strange storylines and surreal moments when reading. Meno's novel provides plenty of laughs and touching moments. It scratches the brain. It makes the reader feel for Billy, who wants nothing more than to discover what had happened to the sister he loved so much and fears he abandoned.
One last note. The author wrote a stage play version of the book. There are a few YouTube videos with "trailers" for the play. They are quirky and worth watching but will not spoil a thing. Now, go look for clues.
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