June 15, 2006


M.T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales: The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen. By M.T. Anderson. Harcourt. $15.

     Uh-oh.  The first M.T. Anderson’s Thrilling Tales book was outstanding – fall-out-of-your-seat funny, and clever, and unusually designed, and utterly absurd, and filled with parodies of mystery-series characters, and parodies of footnotes, and parodies of parody, and…well, it was great.  That was Whales on Stilts!  The question was what Anderson could do for an encore.

     Err…he did this.  The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen, while not actually a bad book, is, in contrast to Anderson’s previous work, rather…well…ordinary.  It has some of the same elements, but it simply doesn’t handle them as well, and the new elements here just don’t come across with the kind of hilarity that the first book produced.

     The Thrilling Tales concept has an everyday girl, Lily Gefelty, solving strange mysteries with two friends who are also characters in their own book series: Katie Mulligan, who lives in Horror Hollow and fights supernatural haunts, and Jasper Dash, Boy Technonaut, whose dress, speech and methods reflect the earlier days when the books about him were written.  This conceit – characters in books being characters in a new series of books, along with a girl who has never been a book character but is one now – was great fun in Whales, but Anderson does little with it here.  These are simply three friends from three different backgrounds, working together on a mystery.

     Except that they don’t work together.  Anderson separates them and has them follow three different paths, only to be reunited near the end.  This is a real mistake, since much of the fun of the first book came from the interaction of the unlikely trio and the different ways in which each of them approached whatever peril they were facing together.  Lily doesn’t have much to do in this book, which is a shame, since she is supposed to be the “normal kid.”  Katie mostly wants to be on vacation and avoid solving any mystery, which is a shame, since her confrontations with dark and sinister things are a great deal of the fun.  And Jasper spends much of his time tied up and choking on his own mucus, which is a huge shame, since it’s a vastly overdone part of the plot and makes this supposed boy hero just another unfortunate kid with allergies.  Bad move, M.T.

     The book does have its compensations.  The basic setup is funny: various other characters from series of kids’ books get together under somewhat mysterious circumstances at a mountaintop lodge.  There’s a boy whose series of horse-riding adventures turns out to have been woefully foreshortened; there are the Cutesy Dell Twins, who seem mainly to be boy-crazed; there are the Manley Boys, obvious Hardy Boys parodies, whose stupidity is almost beyond parody; and there are the Hooper Quints, who spend much of the book being kidnapped, which is the heart of the mystery.

     A few Anderson touches reappear here to good effect, such as occasional use of screamingly large type, the inclusion of a professor who studies bats and finds his way about by screaming loudly as a form of echolocation, and amusing footnotes here and there – for instance, Anderson mentions the “Kentucky mountain asp” and provides the footnote, “the most poisonous of the imaginary North American snakes.”  Alas, these amusing elements seem like echoes of the more successful previous book.  Maybe Anderson will do better next time.  There had better be a next time – this series started with a bang and should not end with a whimper.

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