Book Review:
The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno
Punk Planet Books/Akashic Books
August 2006

By: Shawna Flavell

Billy Argo is the boy detective. He receives a detective kit for his tenth birthday, and from that moment until he graduates from high school, there is not a crime he, his sister Caroline, and their best friend Fenton can’t solve. When he leaves for college, Caroline can’t deal with the separation. Her suicide becomes the one mystery Billy can’t crack. For ten years Billy avoids the suicide and the rest of the world by staying at St. Vitus’ Hospital for the mentally ill. The Boy Detective Fails follows Billy's adjusting to life as a thirty-year-old in a world he’d sheltered himself from for so long. The mystery of his sister’s suicide is not the only case he has to solve.

We all know what it feels like to have the wind knocked out of us. You double over and just want to stay curled up on the floor until Mom rushes over to pick you up, wiping away your tears. Reading Joe Meno’s new book is just that experience. He delivers moments of pain but then turns around and knows just what you need to feel better, and a writer who can both break your heart and then glue the pieces back together is one I can’t resist.


“Hooray, they said, the boy is one year older. Hooray, we are all one year closer to our deaths.”

Ten pages into the book, on Billy’s birthday, and in one line Meno lets his reader know exactly what he is aiming to do throughout. He wants his readers to feel the pain of the boy detective. They do.

"One more month? Why?"
"Summer will be over, sir. I can’t go out there if it’s going to be summertime."
"And why not?"
"Because everything happy right now is going to die."

Meno doesn’t confine his keen ability to capture emotions to the pain and sorrow.

“Together they are trying hard to think of something funny and smart to say, but somehow they are so nervous they cannot, and yet their silence is perfect - it is the perfect silence of anticipation, the anticipation before the very best kiss ever.”


The reader is also led to understand the happiness and awkwardness Billy experiences as he slowly adjusts.

Every part of the book’s layout is fast paced. The language is simple and direct, the structure short and quick. Each chapter is divided into smaller subchapters, the longest clocking in at only nine pages. You don’t want to put the book down, because you are in constant motion. Even when you think about taking a break or peer ahead to see how many pages are left in a section, you don’t stop because there is only a page or two left. Before you know it, you’ve reached the end of a chapter.

Because of the fast pace, the reader at times is convinced they are a P.I. themselves, following the boy detective. Meno feeds into everyone’s fantasy of being that spy by directly asking his readers to participate in solving mysteries. He even includes a decoder ring in the back for you to cut out and use. A DECODER RING! If that doesn’t sell you, I’m done trying. Is there anything better than a book with a Cracker Jack prize? Only a book with several and Meno was kind enough to oblige.

All opinions expressed by Shawna Flavell are solely her own and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.

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