CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 17 . . . . April 28, 2006
Students who encountered Donald J. Sobol’s “Encyclopedia Brown” series while in middle school might now want to turn to something a little more challenging, and challenge is what they definitely will meet in this collection of brief mysteries authored by Ken Weber. Ranging in length from two to six pages of text, with most being just three or four pages long, the 40 mysteries are each introduced by a gun symbol, with an increase in the number of guns indicating an increase, at least from Weber’s perspective, in the difficulty of the mystery. The 40 mysteries are intermixed in terms of their level of solving difficulty; 25 of the book’s receive a one-gun rating, 10 get two guns, and the remaining five mysteries are three-gun rated. Weber offers a great deal of variety in his mysteries’ time and place settings. Although most are set in contemporary times, some, such as “The Secret Service at Work,” which features a centurion during the period of the Roman province of Britannia, are imbedded in the distant past. North America is the predominant place location, but the mysteries occur all over the world, including “A Rush Order” which takes place in New Zealand. While most of the mysteries’ central characters are on the right side of the law, some, like “A Perfect Crime,” are told from the criminals’ perspective. The majority of the mysteries are written in a straightforward narrative style, but Weber throws in some variety, such as in “Detective Aylmers’s Report,” which is told via various written/printed communications, or “Why Pvt. Raymond Failed,” which consists of an e-mail, or “Homicide at 24 North Bleaker Street” which is the transcript of a homicide detective’s interview with a suspect. Each mystery ends with a question, such as “Why does Samantha believe the dead man has been murdered instead of dying from a self-inflicted overdose?” (“One Small Favor Before the Wedding”) or “Which one of the three border crossers had lied to Larkin?” (“Border Alert”). The information needed to answer each question is to be found within the story’s contents. The reader, to confirm her/his correctness (or, if stumped), can turn to the “Solutions” section found at the back of the book where the answer is fully explained.
More a book to be dipped into from time to time as a form of mental recreation, rather than as something to read cover to cover in one sitting, Five-Minute Mysteries is a terrific read, and teachers, especially at the high school level, could consider using some of its contents as a way of providing students with a short break from the normal classroom routines. “Mr. Mayo’s Wakeup Test” and “Mr. Mayo’s Wakeup Test: A Sequel” might be good starting points as each occur in a teacher’s senior English class.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children’s and YA literature at the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.