Book Review: Joe Meno's The Boy Detective Fails

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This book was one of those books you have lying around on your shelves for several years, and when you finally come to read it, you really regret having left it there for so long. The story was always there, in the varying rooms I packed and unpacked my bookshelves over the past four or so years. I don't remember why I bought it, or what year, only that it's always sort of 'been there' in recent memory.

Billy Argo is the boy detective, the best around. Throughout his childhood he solved the mysteries and murders of his town along with his sister, Caroline, and their friend. They were spoken about in the press, praised as heroes, and the boy detective was never wrong. Once Billy headed off to college to study for his degree (and study he did), Caroline attempted suicide. She survived. Caroline attempted suicide again, and this time she was successful. This is the one time in his life that the boy detective would fail. The one question he couldn't answer: why did Caroline kill herself?

The story picks up with Billy aged thirty, recently released from a home for the mentally ill, but living there due to his fear of fully reentering the outside world. The mystery of Caroline's suicide is still one of the few thoughts filling his brain, and he sets about as the boy (man) detective once more, experiencing all the adult world has to offer: call centre jobs, complicated romances, and run-ins with ghosts from the past. He befriends two small children, Effie and Gus, and sets about helping them with their mystery: why does my bunny have no head? This is what sets him down the rabbit hole (ha) of madness that takes up the main thread of the novel.

The Boy Detective Fails is a masterpiece, no exaggeration. If Wes Anderson wrote a detective novel, this would be it. It's full of twee detective kits, headless ghosts in suits, buried treasure, full-pink ensembles, mysterious phone calls, bad wigs, science fairs, pickpockets, gentle giants, supervillains, disappearing buildings, and anything else completely bizarre you can name. Along with Meno's fiendishly easy-to-read writing, the whole thing whizzed by for me in a sunny afternoon and I'm so eager for more. It's heart-warming, like receiving a fuzzy hug from Mr Fox, but not without its darkness, clearly dealing with topics of suicide and mental illness, but, in my opinion, delicately and respectfully. 

I've seen nothing about this book anywhere else in the blogging world, which is understandable as it came out in 2006 and seems to only have 2,550 ratings, which is very low for a book nearly a decade old. I urge you all to read it as it was such a unique and beautiful experience.

M x

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