Max Finder Mystery Collected Casebook Volumes 1-3
Last time I was at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, I stumbled across the Max Finder Mystery Collected Casebook series. These slim volumes collect short comic mystery stories originally published in OWL, a Canadian educational magazine for kids. I picked up the first three because they were illustrated by Michael Cho (Shoplifter), whose clean, classic style I really appreciate.
It turns out that these three are also the only ones written by Liam O’Donnell, the creator of the series. There are an additional four books, but they’re written by the former editor of the magazine and illustrated by someone who’s a bit more cartoony and exaggerated in style.
All three books are very similar, with not much continuity among the stories. Each case is four pages long and features Max Finder (who was inspired by Encyclopedia Brown) and his friend Alison Santos solving a mystery. They’re small-scale kid stuff — nothing too violent — but the emotional underpinnings are realistic. A rare basketball card gets stolen, for example, or someone plays a prank that destroys some property, or there’s a competition of some kind and someone sabotages the contest. Each book has 10 cases.
The kid-focused settings include a slumber party, a pet store, the neighborhood pool and skate park (where someone’s stealing bikes), a soccer game, and a comic store where a manga artist is appearing. There are school plays and intramural games. Some of the cases are obviously Canadian. Everyone sleds or snowboards. One case involves stolen skates at a hockey game; another turns on a toque. Kids go to the washroom instead of the bathroom.
Others are seasonal. A prize was stolen from the Halloween costume contest (where Alison went as Velma, which I thought was cute). The kids go to summer camp, where someone’s using a local legend as cover for mischief.
It’s got the feel of “if Archie was a detective”, only with no romance and a lot more diversity, a pleasure to see. The best part of the series is that the mysteries are actually solvable if you pay attention and watch for details in the art. As a game, it’s a lot of fun. Each case has a thorough analysis of the clues and conclusions at the back of the book, and Cho does a great job drawing the detailed scenes without too much clutter. In between each cases is a puzzle page. Some are logic puzzles, which are quite tricky.
Book two introduces the younger Zoe, who wants to be a crime scene investigator and so works with Max and Alison to collect evidence. Plus, there’s a terrific Rear Window allusion after Max breaks his leg on a case. He has to solve a computer store robbery just by looking at the window. The details evoke the Hitchcock movie throughout, from the neighborly old lady and her dog to a flashbulb playing a key role.
Book three journeys farther afield, with trips to a supposed haunted house, a control room simulator for a trip to Mars, a skating rink, a science quiz show, a fishing village, and a movie set.
I don’t recommend reading a whole bunch of these at once, because they start blurring together, but as short snacks every so often, I enjoyed figuring out the kids’ mysteries. Volume 1 also has a set of character profiles; volume 2, information on the process of creating a comic; and volume 3, how to write a story.