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"I wouldn't believe him if he swore he was lying."—Encyclopedia Brown
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 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).
Note that the series (which started in 1963) is still running, with the most recent book being published in 2011.
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).
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. murders. The other chapters are cases brought to him by fellow schoolmates and tend to be lesser crimes.)
- 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.
- Author Appeal: The author has the taste not to sexualize Sally, but the type she fits into is portrayed semisexually in many of his other works.
- Bluffing the Murderer: Very, very common.
- 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.
- Conviction by Contradiction: Used constantly! The series contains classic examples of the trope.
- Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: Frequently used.
- Cop Boyfriend/Friend on the Force: Inverted by Encyclopedia Brown's father.
- 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.
- Fair Play Whodunnit: Within limits. It was the trope namer for Conviction by Counterfactual Clue after all, and even has its own section in Conviction by Contradiction.
- Gone Swimming, Clothes Stolen: One story was Brown solving the case of who stole a boy's clothes, leaving him naked in the woods.
- 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.
- Hustler: Wilford.
- Bugs Meaney as well.
- I Never Said It Was Poison: How most of Encyclopedia's suspects incriminate themselves.
- 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.
- Inspector Lestrade: Chief Brown.
- Kid Detective
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Over the nearly four decades the series has been running, Sobol has 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 hasn't stopped, publishing the most recent book in 2009.
- Meaningful Name: Bugs Meaney.
- Mystery Fiction
- 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.)
- Obfuscating Disability: Deliberately invoked by the perp in one story.
- Pass the Popcorn: When Bugs and his gang get into a fight with another boy (who proceeds to kick their asses), EVERYONE races over to watch.
- 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.
- Polar Bears and Penguins: Provides the solution to one mystery.
- 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?
- Second Place Is for Winners: One perp is a girl who intentionally wins second prize in a contest because she broke the first prize.
- 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.
- Strictly Formula: The first couple of pages of every book except for the first are word-for-word identical.
- That, and Bugs Meany is generally introduced in the second mystery, and Sally in the third.
- And after Bugs' intro, either the third or fourth chapter is his attempt at revenge, usually by getting the police involved.
- 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").
- 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.