13 January 2011

More on Max Finder

Further investigation of the Encyclopedia Brown and Max Finder mystery series yields an explanation of why so many characters in the latter seem to be up to no good.

In most of the cases that Donald J. Sobol set in Idaville, the culprit is fairly obvious: Bugs Meany, a recent parolee, the snotty braggart who’s taking Sally out to the movies, and so on. The young detective’s task is usually to spot an incongruous detail in that suspect’s alibi or behavior which cracks open his façade of innocence.

In contrast, the mysteries that Liam O’Donnell concocts for Max Finder are true whodunits. A wrong has been committed, and there are at least two suspects, often more. Readers are challenged to identify not only how the brainy detectives solve the crime, but who committed it. To make that hard, those suspects need to be equally suspicious, and perhaps the culprit should be the least suspicious of the lot. Hence the treacherous employees, frame-ups, and cutthroat competitors.

When I first wrote about this series, I was responding to Snow Wildsmith’s praise for how it gives Max’s friend Alison Santos “moments to shine.” Indeed, that aspiring journalist solves several of the mysteries before he does—though Max still gets top billing.

The town of Whispering Meadows is also notably multicultural. The kids have surnames like Diallo, Chang, Hajduk, and Kanwar. Artist Michael Cho draws Max so readers might be able to interpret him as Caucasian, Eurasian, or even Inuit. The character sketches break kids out of types. Tony, “an all-around athlete,” also “cries at sad movies,” and Nanda, who likes “the latest CDs and clothes,” is “a hockey goalkeeper.”

Only one role seems to be reserved for European-Canadian males: the bully. “Basher” McGintley and Lucas Hajduk are as white as, well, Bugs Meany.

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