Friday means Friday’s Forgotten Books hosted by Patti Abbott. Make sure you check out the full list over at Todd Mason's blog.
THE MALTED FALCON (2003) by Bruce Hale
Reviewed by Barry Ergang
No ordinary fourth-grader at Emerson Hicky Elementary, Chet Gecko, along with his mockingbird partner Natalie Attired, is a private detective. In this, his seventh case, he’s hired by a female frog whose “eyes shone large and luminous” who says her name is Dot Maytricks. She claims her sister is in love with a roughneck fifth-grader, Bert Umber, to whom she sent a valentine. Dot wants Chet to retrieve the card to prevent her sister’s reputation from being sullied.
Chet has hardly begun when Principal Zero and Vice Principal Shrewer haul Bert away for setting off a fire drill, and Natalie identifies “Dot” as a classmate by her real name that I won’t reveal here. But when Chet and Natalie look for her, they discover that “(S)he was as hard to find as a bully’s conscience.”
Not long after, a prairie dog named Freddie Nostrils wants to hire Chet to recover the winning ticket for the Malted Falcon, a giant dessert a local candy shop will serve the winner once a week for an entire year. Nostrils says a friend of his lost the ticket. When Chet says he already has a case, Nostrils says he’ll double the fee. Chet can’t resist. His investigation puts him up against a hostile tuatara named Little Gino, a pair of muskrats who are the henchmen of the mysterious Mr. Big, Mr. Big himself, and trouble in the form of “dames” from whom Chet fears he might contract cooties.
Despite the title of this particular entry in the series, Chet Gecko is stylistically far more akin to Philip Marlowe than to Sam Spade. He has irreverent wisecracks for every occasion. The book is loaded with Chandlerian similes—e.g., “He staggered under the impact like a soap opera queen at cancellation time.” “Freddie’s skinny body twitched like a silkworm in a light socket.” “My mind was racing like a cheetah on espresso.”
The series is obviously targeted at a young audience. I’ve seen one site that claims it’s aimed at 7-10 year olds, another that says 9-12. It’s unlikely that anyone in the former group will have any sense of the kind of adult fiction the series is spoofing. It’s remotely possible that some precocious mystery readers in the latter group might. Regardless, this is a great and very entertaining series by which parents can introduce their children to fun reads, and have fun themselves if so inclined.
I recently discovered this series by accident, stumbling upon mention of it while looking up on the Internet something entirely unrelated. With titles (fifteen, as of this writing) like Farewell, My Lunchbag, The Hamster of the Baskervilles, and Hiss Me Deadly, I had to check out one of them. I’m glad I did and, despite having no kids of my own, the kid in me thoroughly enjoyed meeting Chet Gecko. One of these days I might read some of his other cases because they’re clever and comical, and I imagine many other adult private eye-fiction fans will get a kick out of them as well.
For additional information see http://brucehale.com/series/chet-gecko-series/
© Barry Ergang 2018