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"I wouldn't believe him if he swore he was lying."
Encyclopedia Brown is the Kid Detective hero of a series of children's stories written by Donald Sobol. He uses his intelligence and formidable memory for trivial facts to solve a wide variety of mysteries. The Encyclopedia Brown stories are essentially a kids' version of Sobol's earlier series Two Minute Mysteries featuring the police detective Dr. Haledjian. A number of Brown cases are directly taken from Two Minute Mysteries, albeit with the murders solved by Haledjian being replaced with more "kid friendly" crimes like bicycle theft. Like Two Minute Mysteries, most Encyclopedia Brown stories revolve around spotting an inconsistency or impossibility in the guilty party's alibi.Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown is the son of the Chief of Police in Idaville, who one day reveals an uncanny ability to spot holes in alibi and otherwise solve crimes using solely his own observant mind. While helping his dad solve cases at the dinner table, he also started a neighborhood detective agency to help out his friends. His eternal rival was Bugs Meany, a local bully with his own posse of troublemakers, The Tigers. Encyclopedia's friend (and bodyguard) was Sally Kimball, a Cute Bruiser whom even Bugs was afraid of. Another recurring enemy was Wilford Wiggins, a high school dropout who is constantly trying to con the neighborhood kids into buying bogus products or merchandise (Encyclopedia, Sally, and Bugs all agree that they hate him).It was adapted into a short-lived HBO series in 1989 (when an original HBO series was more likely to be a kids' show). There was also a Newspaper Comic syndicated from 1978-80.The last book of the series was posthumously published in October, 2012, three months after Sobol's death.
Books in this series
Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (1963).
Encyclopedia Brown Strikes Again (1965), also known as The Case of the Secret Pitch.
Encyclopedia Brown Finds the Clues (1966).
Encyclopedia Brown Gets His Man (1967).
Encyclopedia Brown Solves Them All (1968).
Encyclopedia Brown Keeps the Peace (1969).
Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day (1970).
Encyclopedia Brown Tracks Them Down (1971).
Encyclopedia Brown Shows the Way (1972).
Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Case (1973).
Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (1974), also known as Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Exploding Plumbing and Other Mysteries.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles (1975).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Midnight Visitor (1977).
Encyclopedia Brown Carries On (1980).
Encyclopedia Brown Sets the Pace (1981).
Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake (1982). Co-written with Glenn Andrews.
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Mysterious Handprints (1985).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Treasure Hunt (1988).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers (1990).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Two Spies (1995).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of Pablo's Nose (1996).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sleeping Dog (1998).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Slippery Salamander (2000).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Jumping Frogs (2003).
Encyclopedia Brown Cracks the Case (2007).
Encyclopedia Brown, Super Sleuth (2009).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret UFO (2010).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Carnival Crime (2011).
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Soccer Scheme (2012).
It also provides examples of the following tropes:
Adults Are Useless: Every book starts with Encyclopedia helping his police officer father solve a crime over dinner. (These tend to be 'real' cases, i.e. armed robbery. The other chapters are cases brought to him by fellow schoolmates and tend to be lesser crimes.)
Aesop Amnesia: Late in many of the books, Encyclopedia attends a gathering of local kids called by Wilford Wiggins to invite them to buy into something big that doesn't exist. You'd think people would stop listening to him after the first few times Encyclopedia explained how Wilford was trying to con them. Yet every single kid in town shows up whenever he announces some big plan that could make them all rich. This happens often enough for Encyclopedia to create a special policy for it; in one instance, Encyclopedia tells his client he takes cases involving Wilford pro bono.
Encyclopedia consistently gets calls asking him to come to a certain location (sometimes deserted) because the anonymous caller wants to hire him for something. Inevitably, it turns out to be one of Bugs's revenge schemes. But Encyclopedia and Sally fall for it every time.
On the other hand, Encyclopedia's the good guy, so as smart as it might be to be selective about his assignments, it would make the detective agency (and possibly even the local police force, since his father's the police chief) look bad if he were to ignore a call for help.
Artistic License – Gun Safety: One of Encyclopedia's clients is a boy obsessed with frontier history who runs around with an authentic 19th century musket. There's no real problem, since it's specifically noted that the gun is so old and rusted that it couldn't shoot gumdrops.
Although it should be noted that 1) common gun safety rules are to assume all guns are loaded and dangerous at all times unless you genuinely just checked, and 2) black-powder firearms that are left loaded can become dangerously unstable but still functional for decades, if not centuries.
Awesome Mccoolname: Some of the characters fall underneath these, including Bugs (Meany), Trisk, Cicero, Ziggy, and Wilford. Not to mention Encyclopedia himself (or his real name, Leroy).
"Bugs" being a nickname with a long provenance, shows the author's age - it was an early 20th century nickname for someone who was criminally or otherwise unstable (from whence was derived the name of Bugs Bunny).
Broken Glass Penalty: One segment has some kids breaking a window from the inside and accidentally throwing the ball out the window. To avoid getting in trouble they put a rock on the floor in the room and told their mother that someone had thrown the rock in, that's how the window got broken. The mother figures out that if the rock had been thrown in there would be glass in the room, but there wasn't, only glass on the ground outside.
The Case Of: The series has used this many times, with titles like Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Dead Eagles and Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers.
Con Artists Have No Sense of Scale: In one case, Wilford claims to be designing a scale model of the universe that would fit in the Grand Canyon, with a ball, one inch in diameter, to represent the sun. Fortunately for the kids, Encyclopedia does have a sense of scale and realizes exactly how big such a "scale" model would be.
Condensation Clue: Used by a couple of spies to leave messages for one another in a hotel room they took turns checking into.
Cute Bruiser: Sally. She's described as being "the prettiest girl in the fifth-grade", and the most athletic. She frequently beats up the bullies. It's indicated that Encyclopedia made her his partner both because he recognized how smart she was, and to be his bodyguard.
Does Not Like Shoes: One recurring character is a boy who collects teeth, who usually walks around barefoot in the hopes of finding new specimens under his feet.
Fresh Clue: Inverted in one story. EC deduces that the perp had not just just pulled up after a hours-long drive (as he claims) because a baby sits on the car hood and doesn't get burned; therefore the car must have been sitting there long enough to cool down.
Gone Horribly Right: Bugs' arranging a competition between Encyclopedia and Sally. The plan: to have Encyclopedia win and thus show up the girl who beat up Bugs. This plan succeeds, so far as it goes, but then Encyclopedia and Sally join forces, much to Bugs' chagrin.
Hollywood Law: The story that introduces Sally, when she presents a mystery to test Encyclopedia's skill, has one glaring flaw that falsifies the solution: when the grandniece states that Merko is not Fred Gibson's grandfather, the court takes her claim seriously, because Merko, revealed in the solution to be a woman, is the man's grandmother. However, in real life, the probate judge is well aware of the decedent's gender (it's on the death certificate, after all, and this hearing took place decades after Merko's death), and such a statement would have been dismissed out of hand as frivolous. Even if the judge didn't know (Merko had posed as a man her entire life, and there was either no medical examination or the coroner had been suborned to falsify the record), the question of Merko's gender was legally irrelevant in any case. The only way the grandniece could have been taken seriously would have been if Merko had been a man, and the allegation was that Fred Gibson had simply been lying. It's obvious, in-universe, that Sally is trying to test not only Encyclopedia's intelligence, but whether or not he is sexist; however, she could have devised a better story.
Informed Ability: Sally is supposedly on roughly the same level as Encyclopedia, intellectually. It's only ever applied a few times. One occasion is when she arranges a mystery face-off against him, and on a few other rare occasions when she solves the mystery instead of Encyclopedia.
Her most common case-solving portrayal, used almost once per book, is to point out something that Brown failed to notice due to her greater awareness of gender issues.
"That," Sally replied, "is because you are a boy."
Justified when Encyclopaedia drops the hint about Percy's glasses. Despite the fact that until then she's almost swooning in adoration, she realises at once what he's trying to tell her and acts appropriately to the point where feigning unconsciousness is the only way for Percy to make her stop hitting him.
Her being just below Encyclopedia intellectually is typically portrayed by her knowing who the guilty party is, just not being able to prove it; or at least not as fast as Encyclopedia.
Loads and Loads of Characters: Over the nearly four decades the series has been running, Sobol introduced a surprisingly large number of kids, most of whom have a recurring personality quirk that centers around some hobby (art, catching flies, entering contests, superstitions, acting, etc.) and who often serve as Encyclopedia's clients.
Long Runner: Sobol first started publishing the series in the 1960s, and continued producing them until his death in 2012.
Non-Action Guy: Encyclopedia, who constantly fearfully anticipates any confrontations with bullies bigger than him. This is why he has Sally.
Courageously averted on one occasion: he specifically states (when asked why he isn't bringing her) that the boy they're dealing with is more than her match. (On this occasion, however, he's aware of the older boy's signature method of brutality and has taken appropriate precautions.)
Not Allowed to Grow Up: Since the first book was published almost fifty years ago, Encyclopedia's age has always been listed as ten years old (or a fifth-grader, for those books that don't mention an age).
Platonic Life Partners: Encyclopedia and Sally, reader comments about them making "a cute couple" aside. Was Lampshaded at least once by a kid photographer who saw them sitting on a couch together and tried to take a picture.
Coincidentally, Sally almost attacked that photographer with a lamp.
Pun: Whenever an alternate name for the Tigers is mentioned.
Police Are Useless: How is it that after almost 25 cases in which Bugs is proven wrong, the cops still respond to Bugs' attempts to frame Encyclopedia and Sally?
In Real Life, police do have (in theory) an obligation to investigate any criminal complaint made, and in-story, Bugs does do a good job setting up some of his plots. Where this trope does come into play is when, upon being exposed, Bugs isn't immediately hauled off to jail. Note to author: making a false criminal complaint is illegal, not to mention some of the underlying crimes Bugs actually committed in trying to frame Encyclopedia and Sally.
Serious Business: Idaville seems to have a lot of unique contests that fit this trope, including shower singing, mouse shows, worn-out sayings contests, and the like. Encyclopedia even lampshades this when discussing the mouse show.
Similarly, some of the kids' hobbies fit this trope, too. Justified, as, at that age, one's hobby is indeed Serious Business — at least to oneself.
Society Marches On: One case had you realizing that one of the people said he went to a bank on a Sunday, when banks were closed at the time of writing. Nowadays, though most banks are still closed on Sundays, the proliferation of ATMs means that one can still do business in a bank (make deposits, withdrawals, etc.) even when it's technically closed. Additionally, as banks have moved into supermarkets and malls many banks are now open seven days a week, only closing on major holidays.
Solid Gold Poop: Smelly Nellie is on the hunt for ambergis - whale vomit - in order to sell it to perfumers.
Something Completely Different: 'Encyclopedia Brown Takes the Cake had only seven cases instead of the standard ten, and each case was followed with an additional chapter and a recipe in the theme of that particular case.
Strictly Formula: The first couple of pages of every book except for the first are almost word-for-word identical, describing Idaville, the businesses in it, and the police force, leading up to Chief Brown bringing a case home for his son to solve.
The second usually introduces the detective agency he runs out his garage, and a neighborhood kid will come by and hire him to do something about something Bugs Meany's done.
The third or fourth chapter is Bugs' attempt at revenge, usually by getting the police involved. And the introduction of Sally Kimball for the book, and the explanation of why Bugs doesn't just punch Encyclopedia's lights out.
While Bugs and his gang are introduced, the author will also usually suggest that they should have called them something else besides "The Tigers" ("They should have called themselves the Steel Clocks. They were always giving some kid a hard time.") and have Bugs envision some sort of comically gruesome fate for Encyclopedia ("Pounding his head so low that he'd be able to use his socks as earmuffs.") Typically, if Sally's involved, there's mention of the only time Bugs tried to mess with her and his resulting Non Sequitur Thud ("mumbling something about the price of tea in China").
The eighth or ninth chapter in most books has Encyclopedia thwarting one of Wilford Wiggins's get-rich-quick schemes.
Tattered Flag: In a moment of In-UniverseFridge Logic, Encyclopedia realizes that a man lauded as a hero shouldn't have gotten a medal because according to the story being told, the man saw the flag over a fort (that had been taken over by hostile Native Americans) flying in the rain; this should have at least given him cause for concern (as army regulations hold that flags should be put away in inclement weather), but he led the wagon train down the pass into the fort anyway.
Tech Marches On: One mystery was "solved" based on Q and Z being omitted from the letters assigned to numbers on a telephone. We'll wait a second while you get your phone out and check...
Thirteen Is Unlucky: Trisk (which is short for Triskaidekaphobia, the fear of the number thirteen) is terribly superstitious, particularly about his namesake.
The War on Straw: In "The Case of the Dead Eagles", Encyclopedia promotes gun control and ridicules the "Guns don't kill people, people do" argument. In so doing, he makes an analogy, stating that that logic, applied to cars, would lead to abolition of all traffic laws and regulations and fines. Except it doesn't. The aforementioned argument is that people, not guns, are responsible for gun-related offenses, and that the best remedy society has is to punish said people, using the existing regulations Encyclopedia claims his opponents want to abolish, rather than outlawing guns altogether. In fact, although groups like the NRA want to see a rollback of many gun restrictions, no one wants to see an abolition of regulations against, or punishment for, irresponsible gun use, or the prevention of gun ownership by people proven to be unwilling or unable to act responsibly..