CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 25. . . .March 2, 2012
Trueman Bradley, Aspie Detective.
Alexei Maxim Russell.
London, UK: Jessica Kingsley (Distributed in Canada by UBC Press), 2012.
304 pp., trade pbk., $16.95.
Private investigators-New York (State)-New York-Fiction.
Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.
Review by Beverley Brenna.
I've always hated the sound of cars honking. In my new office on Reade Street, the traffic was loud and hurt my ears. I began to wonder if I had made a mistake by moving to New York City. It was much noisier here than I had expected.
Someone knocked at the door of my room and I opened it. A short, round man in a mover's uniform was standing there.
"You 201 Reade Street?" he asked.
"Am I what?" I asked. "No, I'm Trueman Bradley."
"Yeah, that's what I'm talking about, here," he said. "Mr. Trueman Bradley at 201 Reade Street, it says. I'm the guy what moved your furniture, right? I got the bill here. Now, we'll take of 10 percent if you pay cash, see? So, how about it?"
The mover was wearing a blue uniform with yellow stripes down the sides. He was unshaven. He had a lot of small burns on his trousers. I recognized the burns as the kind made by cigarette ashes. He smelled like smoke, and I could recognize the smell as being from Chesterfield brand cigarettes. The grease on the front of his shirt was recognizable as the kind of stains caused by French fries. I had read medical books and had learned to recognize the signs of many medical problems. I could recognize all the symptoms that would indicate he suffered from the medical problem known as "high blood pressure."
I could see all these details about him, but I had no idea what he was saying to me.
Trueman Bradley's Asperger's Syndrome (AS) makes him a complex protagonist in a novel centred around a young man trying to make it as a private detective. What Trueman lacks in social skills and perception, he makes up for in mathematical savvy and an uncanny ability to interpret sensory information, and the resulting 'fantasy adventure' is crafted carefully in terms of plotline.
Trueman, an unassuming millionaire, has moved from Heartville, Illinois, to New York City to set up a detective agency. He brings with him numerous skills learned from the grandfather who raised him, as well as confidence inspired by reading detective comics. Miraculously, his landlady, her ex daughter-in-law Dr. Nora Lucca—and Trueman's love interest— and another tenant are also attracted to the detective business, and in one way or another his three new friends become collaborators in a quest to save lives and solidify Trueman's business prospects.
While comic scenes centred around Trueman's mishaps lighten the tone of the book, these scenes also serve to illuminate how he is affected—both positively and negatively—by his AS. One such amusing episode occurs when Trueman spots a murderer they are tracking in a crowded airport and blows their cover. Nora chides, "Here's lesson two of being a detective. If you suspect someone of being a murderer, you don't run up to them and shout 'He's the one!' You understand? He's sure to run away!"
The most commendable aspect of this title is the authenticity with which Trueman, himself, is created. His Asperger's Syndrome is represented by numerous details, all of which ring true. He can concentrate on only one thing at a time and will fall down when stimuli become too overwhelming. He struggles with the unexpected, and, as a compensatory strategy, he adds new tasks to his daily schedule—sometimes after the fact— and compulsively checks them off in order to demonstrate a measure of control. He counts prime numbers to relax. He also experiences difficulty with idioms, a challenge that his friends constantly remark on and mediate. "That's just an expression," they tell him when he hears things like 'on the level,' 'eat you alive,' and 'every second counts.' One particularly noteworthy detail of Trueman's portrayal is the manner in which the text differentiates between 'Aspie' interests and true obsessions. Trueman's fascination with Dick Tracy comics, for example, is identified as the former and not the latter, and Nora, conveniently educated by a cousin with AS, explains: "...people with Asperger's will sometimes develop a very strong interest in a certain subject. More of a concentrated interest than you or I might have, but there's no reason to make it sound like it's 'strange' or an 'obsession.' He likes comic book detectives because he enjoys memorizing every tiny detail about them."
Somewhat reminiscent of the simplistic and formulaic episodes of Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown mystery series in combination with the bold private detective genre of Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, along with a nod to Haddon's central character in the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, the book also has its own unique style and one that may appeal to young adult readers who are mathematically inclined and prefer plot-driven fiction to character-driven content. While Trueman, himself, appears as richly dynamic, the other characters are rendered flat and unchanging—perhaps better suited to the comic book form rather than a novel of this type. Another problem with the text is that it needs to find more of a balance between showing and telling, with Trueman's first-person narration veering too much into explanations of Asperger's Syndrome and away from the action.
In addition, issues with continuity reflect editorial weaknesses, and include inconsistencies in setting (at one point, Trueman is in a cell where, without being released, he is suddenly hugged by Nora who is standing at the time in an adjoining room) as well as problems in grammar (with his very formal patterns of speech, Trueman's use of 'I was laying' comes as a surprise).
A clear and worthy message of Trueman Bradley, Aspie Detective is the idea that people with Asperger's Syndrome have strengths related to their different way of thinking, making this book a good choice for those interested in learning more about AS.
Recommended with reservations.
Beverley Brenna (www.beverleybrenna.com) is an assistant professor in Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatchewan where her research interests include children's literature; she is also the author of eight books for young people.
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