As a kid, like most kids, I used to absolutely hate reading. I preferred to ride my BMX or player my Super Nintendo. I can’t remember if I ever had a Nintendo or not. Anyways I didn’t know how, but I managed to get a hold of an Encyclopedia Brown book by Donald Sobol. Well this review isn’t about Encyclopedia Brown, so I won’t get into it. But I recently found out these type of books, as there were many in the series, were called Solve It Yourself Mystery books.
A Solve It Yourself Mystery books is basically a mystery book where you can solve. Sounds kind of ridiculous right? Aren’t you able to solve all mystery books? Well yes and no. First off let me start by saying I haven’t read a lot of mystery books so far. If you read any of my previous reviews, you will know fantasy is more my preferred genre. Though I have read some mystery books and I watch a lot of tv which seems to be all crime drama these days. Anyways, these mystery books and crime dramas are entertaining in their own right, but none are meant to be solved by the reader or watcher. In all of these the detective goes out and searches for the evidence and the detective goes out to try to prove whoever they are interviewing that they are lying (in most cases). The reader or watcher plays no active part in it. Certainly they can have in their own mind who the guilty party is, but they have no actual way to prove it until the detectives in the book or show do it. This probably isn’t the best analogy, but it’s a bit like Scooby Doo. No offence to Scooby Doo as I love the show, but whoever is behind whatever the squad is trying to solve is always the most unlikely person. That in itself isn’t all that bad. The problem is that there are absolutely no clues that the viewer can use to identify the guilty party. As a result, after they catch the evil villain, a brief explanation of why they did what they did is necessary. It’s almost always about some grudge that was never talked about throughout the episode.
Ok that was a little longer of an explanation than I intended and I haven’t even explained what a Solve It Yourself Mystery book is. Basically its like the name suggests – it’s a mystery book that you solve yourself. Well in the case of Encyclopedia Brown and Absolutely Amazing Five-minute Mysteries, it’s a series of mysteries you can solve yourself. Because in every 100+ page book, there are several different cases for you to solve. Each case is only a few pages long. This way you read over the case, all the clues, witness statements, and evidence and then you determine yourself where the guilty party lied, or what evidence was missing, or whatever the case may be. Then you flip to the back of the book and looks at the solutions to see if you were right.
So you probably guessed I am no longer a kid anymore. In an attempt to rekindle my love for mystery books, I picked up some Encyclopedia Brown books not too long ago. Sadly after re-reading some of the cases, I realized I have outgrown them. Not to mention the cases are no longer fun to solve because I remember the solutions to a lot of them from back when I read them the first time.
This set me out on a path to find a more adult version of a Solve It Yourself Mystery book. In my search I found a book called 2 Minute Mysteries by Donald Sobol, the original author of Encyclopedia Brown, a Five-minute Mysteries series by Ken Weber, and a Meg Mackintosh and the Mystery of ……… series by Lucinda Landon. Unfortunately, not one of these books were at any of the Chapters stores here in Edmonton as all are fairly old. That means I had to order them in. I normally only buy 1 book at a time because, well, I can only read 1 book at a time. For those of you who can read more than 1 book at a time, my hat goes off to you. Well, I ended up ordering 5 books to take advantage of the free shipping if you make a purchase over $39. Hey, books are expensive, and any little bit of savings helps.
The books came in about a week later and I had to decide which book to read. The Lucinda Landon books are about 40-50 pages long and I am really excited to start reading them, but they aren’t the usual few pages per case I was used to. So I decided to stick with someone more familiar. That means it came down to 2 Minute Mysteries or 5 Minute Mysteries. One of the first rules you learn as a reader is “Never judge a book by its cover”. Well I kind of broke that ruler. I chose Ken Weber’s 5 Minute Mysteries because, well, a 5 Minute Mystery sounds more exciting than a 2 minute mysteries. Lame I know, but what can you do.
Ok FINALLY onto the review of the actual book, Absolutely Amazing Five-minute Mysteries, by Ken Weber. There are 40 cases in total. The longest one I believe was 5 pages long and the shortest ones 2 pages long. One thing I found quite nice was that every single case there was a different inspector, or police officer, or lawyer, etc. Where as in Encyclopedia Brown there was only one detective named, yup you guessed it, Encyclopedia Brown. This means that Donald Sobol really only had to describe one main character in the first case of a book and that would suffice for the rest of the cases. Ken Weber on the other hand had to introduce a new main character for every case. This isn’t a knock on Donald Sobol, but more a praise for Ken Weber. The different main characters is only one main difference between the 2 series’. Another one being that the “detective” in Ken Weber’s series are all adults, where as Encyclopedia Brown is a kid. This explains why the cases in 5 Minute Mysteries are considerably harder to solve than Encyclopedia Brown. Again this is no knock on Donald Sobol, simply a matter of writing to difference audiences. Last thing I noticed was that the majority of the detectives in Ken Weber’s book were female. Despite the name of the author, Ken Weber, I wouldn’t be surprised if I found out the author was a female. Though I don’t care enough to look it up. It just seems like the author was over compensating for something by always putting a female in a superior position. Didn’t actually change anything of the book though.
Ok lastly onto the actual cases. Naturally I’m not going to give you a synopsis of all 40 cases because that would be boring and I already forgot a bunch of them. I’ll just say overall there were a some easy cases to solve, some hard ones, and some you honestly just had to take the word of the author for. Not that they were extremely hard or you need some special knowledge to solve, just simply the particulars of the cases weren’t explained well in my opinion. For some of these I read the solution, went back and re-read the case knowing what I was looking for, and still managed to miss what I was looking for. Oh there was another type of case that I forgot to mention. There were cases were I got the answer but before I read the solution to see if I was right, I said to myself “I better not be right”. Turns out, sometimes I was right. These weren’t easy or obvious, just simply stupid.
Overall a very good read if you like to flex your brain muscles trying to solves cases. Only I wouldn’t suggest you do what I did, read all the cases at once. Since each case is so small and one case does not relate to any previous cases, you should probably put it on your night stand and read 1 or 2 cases a night before going to bed. The shortness of each case is especially important if you are like me and you have to get to a natural stop in a book, end of chapter or scene, before putting the book down. This is why I do not read in bed because I’ll be up all night reading instead of sleeping.