Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday's Forgotten Books, Friday, January 23, 2015

 From the archives. 

Toni L.P. Kelner suspects the Brains Books influenced her "Where are they now?" series--they have real settings, are filled with odd facts, and she hopes Tilda Harper is a character you'll like hanging out with.

The Brains Benton Books: The Case of the Forgotten Series

When Patti first invited me to participate on Friday's Forgotten Books, I was all excited to have a chance to talk about an author I just adore and who is seldom talked about any more: Dorothy Gilman. Then it was announced that Ms. Gilman is getting a much deserved MWA Grand Master Award in 2010. This is wonderful news, without a doubt, but I don't think she can legitimately be called forgotten anymore.
So I've decided to go back even further to the series of mysteries I loved I was growing up: the Brains Benton books. I read and reread those books more times than I can count.

I know, most of you are scratching your heads over these books. I admit that it's a pretty obscure series. According to Wikipedia, the books came out in the late 1950s and early 1960s, They were originally published by the Golden Press, and later reprinted by Whitman Books. Charles Spain Verral wrote the first one, then George Wyatt continued the series with lots of rewriting from Verral. I don't think it was ever wildly popular, and there were only six books in the series.

Actually, as far as I was concerned, there were only three. That's how many of the books my big sister Brenda had and then passed on to me. (One of the best gifts any young reader can ever have is a big sister willing to share her books--I was luck enough to have three!) Brenda had the first three of the series: The Case of the Missing Message, The Case of the Counterfeit Coin, and The Case of the Stolen Dummy. I didn't even find out there were other books until years later, and it wasn't until the web came around that I tracked down the volumes I was missing. And though it's hard to look at them with any trace of objectivity, I think they're still pretty good reads.

Read this paragraph, the first from The Case of the Missing Message, and see if you aren't charmed:

"I might as well explain right away that my name is Jimmy Carson and I live at 43 Maple Street in the town of Crestwood. I'm a detective. And if anybody tries to tell you that a boy like me can't be a real detective and get mixed up in an honest-to-goodness mystery...well, I wish he'd been along the night my partner and I investigated the spooky old Madden house."

Jimmy was an average kid in the almost painfully average town of Crestview. But he had one thing most kids don't: a best friend and partner like Brains Benton, who was a certifiable genius. Together they formed a detective agency complete with secret passwords, code names, and a secret hideout about the Benton family garage. As they tackled kidnappers, counterfeiters, and swindlers, Jimmy was the Watson to Brains' s Holmes, sometimes the Archie Goodwin to Brains's Nero Wolfe. While Brains was amazingly intelligent and worthy of admiration, sometimes he was kind of a snot. Jimmy, on the other hand, was a great guy to hang out with. He made mistakes like trusting the wrong person and misusing equipment, and wasn't nearly as smart as Brains, but he was loyal and tenacious, and never gave up on a case.

The books had a comforting sense of realism. Jimmy didn't have a roadster like Nancy Drew--he had a bicycle. His father wasn't as exotic as the Hardy Boys' father--I think he was an insurance salesman. He and Brains didn't go to exotic locales, unless you count the circus or the nearby lake where they went for the summer. Yet I learned the oddest facts from those books, information about topics ranging from infrared photography to ancient coins to stock car racing. There was some danger, of course, but nothing over-the-top--just enough to get my heart racing. They were just so much fun!

And since I had to pull out the books to write this post, I just might start reading the series all over again.

Brian Busby, MURDER IN MAJORCA, Michael Bryan (Brian Moore)
Casual Debris, WHO WILL RUN THE FROG HOSPITAL, Lorrie Moore
Bill Crider, GUN GLORY FOR TEXANS, Marshall McCoy
Martin Edwards, THE HEIRS OF ANTHONY BOUCHER, Marv Lachman
Rick Horton, FINNLEY WREN, Philp Wylie
Jerry House. MORE DIXIE GHOSTS, ed. by McSherry, Waugh and Greenbert
Randy Johnson
George Kelley, Loren D. Estleman's stories about Peter Mackin
Margot Kinberg, CRADLE TO GRAVE, Eleanor Kuhn
Rob Kitchin, A DARK SONG OF BLOOD, Ben Pastor
B.V. Lawson, THE GREY FLANNEL SHROUD, Henry Slezar
Evan Lewis, HEADED FOR A HEARSE, Jonathan Latimer
Steve Lewis, THE RANGE BUSTER, William Heuman
Todd Mason
J.F. Norris, COMLYN ALIBI, Headon Hill
Ron Scheer, BUT BEAUTIFUL: A BOOK ABOUT JAZZ, Geoff Dyer
James Reasoner. RUSTLER OF OWLHORNS, Jim O'Mara
Richard Robinson, DEATH WORLD, Harry Harrison
R.T., THE SHOOTING STAR: THE BRIEF ARC OF JOE MCCARTHY, Tom Wicker
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THRILLER 2:: STORIES YOU CAN'T PUT DOWN, Clive Cussler
TomCat, UNHAPPY HOOLIGAN, Stuart Palmer
TracyK, SALVATION OF A SAINT, Keigo Higashino
Prashant Trikannad, THE ACCUSED, Harold R. Daniels

8 comments:

John said...

Just posted mine:

The Comlyn Alibi by Headon Hill

Thanks, Patti!

Casual Debris said...

Mine is up:

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

Thanks

Casual Debris said...

Oops! I see that it's there :)

R. T. said...

And there is this from BEYOND EASTROD:

http://beyondeastrod.blogspot.com/2015/01/unforgettable-book-friday-shooting-star.html

However, my weekly feature does not fit the genre range for your weekly postings, feel free to ignore it.

Many thanks, Patti, from the Redneck Riviera.

Richard said...

I'm not familiar with the Brains Benton books. Thanks for the tip, I'll see if I can find one.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

The complete title of the book Barry reviewed is:

THRILLER 2: STORIES YOU JUST CAN’T PUT DOWN

Margot Kinberg said...

Thanks, as ever, Patti, for including me!

R. T. said...

Patti, I really appreciate your willingness to include my humble postings in your weekly feature. And to bring my offerings more in line with your listings, I will be identifying my offerings as "Forgotten Book Friday," and I will focus almost exclusively on crime-detective-mystery titles from the past fifteen years that deserve to be read by more people. So, if you are willing, please include my future efforts in your Friday updates. Thanks a million from the revitalized and redesigned Beyond Eastrod.