The Question of the Missing Head
Calling The Question of the Missing Head “an Asperger’s Mystery” might seem trendy, but the approach works very well. I loved reading it.
Samuel has Asperger’s Syndrome. He’s not embarrassed by it; he considers it a “personality trait” instead of a disorder. He has opened a storefront called Questions Answered in the hope of being challenged by unusual questions, which suits his talents. There he meets former newspaper photographer Mrs. Washburn, who quickly falls into a useful role as his assistant and sort-of interpreter. Due to some teacher training, she recognizes his need for a routine and can bridge over the way his directness strikes others as odd.
The two are enmeshed in an unusual investigation when the Garden State Cryonics Institute comes to Samuel to help them find a missing head. A frozen head of one of their “guests” has disappeared, but the case deepens when a new body is found in one of the storage labs.
Samuel’s narration provides fascinating insight into how the mind of someone with this condition thinks. E.J. Copperman has previously written mysteries, and co-author Jeff Cohen has published two books on parenting children on the autism spectrum, providing expert knowledge. (Weirdly, they’re the same person.)
I particularly liked how Samuel “diagnoses” people’s personalities based on how they answer the question, “What’s your favorite Beatles song?” Or his “rules” for operating with other people, such as this one:
“It’s very nice,” I said of the photograph, because that’s what I’ve learned one should say when offered pictures of a person or that person’s child.
His approach can be almost Holmesian, but with a much different cause. His observation skills are exceptional because he’s learned he needs to analyze what most people normally understand, particularly facial expressions. And Samuel has a good range of characters to deal with: the self-important security chief, a pushy “citizen journalist” (blogger), a well-meaning police detective who knows he’s in over his head (ha), and the annoying and rich family of the dead woman whose head is missing. The mystery is complex and twisty, too.
I hope there are more books to come in this series, because I really liked Samuel and Mrs. Washburn, and I’d like to read more about them.