Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Review: The Saxby Smart series by Simon Cheshire

My name is Saxby Smart and I’m a private detective. I go to St.Egbert’s School, my office is in the garden shed, and these are my casefiles. Unlike most detectives, I don’t have a sidekick - so that part I’m leaving up to YOU.” 

In this series of stories, YOU can be the detective - Saxby presents you with the evidence, and poses some tricky questions.

Confession time: when I was eight I wanted to be a detective or a spy. No lie - I had a growing collection of 'How to be...' books, including two brilliant publications by Usborne Books - The Spy's Guidebook and The Detective's Handbook. Sadly these books, as well as others such as Gyles Brandreth's Spy School, are no longer in my possession - they either fell part due to overuse, or were sent to a charity shop by my mother one day. I had a fingerprint kit, a small number of laughable disguises (never worn outside the house) and I would occasionally engage in rather slow and hesitant morse code conversations with my friend who lived down the road, all flashed using torches or mirrors from bedroom mirrors. Ahhh... nostalgia!

I'm a secondary school teacher so I don't know if younger boys still aspire to careers like this these days, or are they all too busy 'living' these lives on their games consoles instead. However, if they are wannabe sleuths then they really should have the Saxby Smart books in their collection. This series of eight books (so far) gives young readers something my Detective's Handbook never could - the opportunity to take part in the solving of mysteries for themselves. For in these books, the reader plays Watson to Saxby Smart's Holmes.

Saxby Smart is a pupil at St Egbert's School and has managed to build up a glowing reputation for himself as a schoolboy detective by solving mysteries for his teachers and fellow pupils. Each of the eight books so far features three casefiles, all of which are short easy-read mysteries that Saxby has had to solve. Written in the first person we follow Saxby's narration, and from time to time we are drawn into the mystery as we are posed questions pertaining to the investigation by the young sleuth. And sometimes these questions aren't easy: although these books are suitable for the 8+ age group readers will still need to concentrate if they are going to be able to have a ready (and correct answer) for Saxby. In addition to the questions we are also made privy to Saxby's own notebook pages from time to time, to help us keep up with his thoughts and musings on a case.

Although we are involved in the investigation from beginning to end, the final solution is not always obvious before we reach the denoument and so readers are kept interested for the whole story. It is great fun to guess the outcome of Saxby's detective work, but there also enough twists and turns to ensure that guesses are not always easy. The stories also occasionally include Saxby having to consider the moral issues of right and wrong - these are not simply stories about finding a fellow pupil's missing cat. They involve fraud, theft, organised crime and so on. These stories really will make young readers use their 'little grey cells', whilst also having a laugh at the time as Simon Cheshire's writing is laced with good humour.

I have only read two of the books from the series so far (books seven and eight) but if all of the others are of a similar quality then this is a set that children, and especially boys, will love.

And there's more...... the latest addition to the Saxby Smart collection is Saxby Smart's Detective Handbook. Not as colourful and illustrated as my beloved books from when I was a child, but no less enjoyable. This isn't a straightforward 'how to... ' book either, as it also includes case studies of notorious crimes from the past (including grave robbing, Jack the Ripper, Bonnie and Clyde, and many others); background information about fingerprints, blood and ballistics; and profiles of famous writers of classic detective fiction. This is a book that would have been a much-read part of my collection had it been published ## years ago. The blurb on the back of the book states that it is "The essential guide to solving mind-mangling mysteries"  and I think that many an 8+ boy will get as much enjoyment out of this as I did out of my long-lost detective books.

All eight volumes of the Saxby Smart series are available to buy right now, and Saxby Smart's Detective Handbook is released on 28 October 2010. My thanks go to Piccadilly for sending me a copy and thereby creating a very nostalgic moment for me. I have also just discovered that Mr Cheshire has the misfortune to attend the same secondary school as I did (although a number of years before I first crossed its threshold) - it's nice to know some good has come out of the old place ;-)

1 comment:

  1. The Saxby series lets readers solve the case! Using wit, logic, and the help. .