Welcome to the journal of Little Tom Conway: student, TV aficionado, and Big Break Detective. At the urging of his sister, Kate, he started this log of the Big Break Detectives cases, chronicling the adventures of Kate, Little Tom, and their friend Danny as they solve mysteries during their 30 minute lunch break. Though limited on time, they aren’t limited in location: solving crimes in the village, at the zoo, and the circus. With inspiration from Little Tom’s favorite TV crime fighters, Hamm and Pickle, and the help of Per-cee the robot, the Big Break Detectives always save the day.
While kid detective books often need a suspension of disbelief, this one might require a bit more than normal. These three super sleuths discover a basement science lab complete with a cranky, wise-cracking robot that no one in the school remembers. They sneak out of school on a regular basis without anyone noticing, including the adults they help or the police who show up to arrest the bad guys. Then they gather clues, solve the crimes, catch the crook, hand him or her over to the authorities, and get back to class, all in 30 minutes or less. However, realism is not the goal, as many of the disguises make plain. The goal appears to be a light-hearted romp through some amusing mysteries, which the book does accomplish.
One note for American readers is that the Irish slang terms may need some explaining. “Big break” references the lunch break in the middle of the school day, and “jelly baby” is a gummy candy that Little Tom likes to snack on. The structure can also be a little jarring, with bonus material plunked in the middle of the mini-episodes as well as between them. This bonus info is interesting and definitely adds to the character development of the story, but its placement sometimes interrupts the flow of the story.
The art has a classic newspaper comic feel with the addition of mixed media for the bonus material sections.The mixed media definitely adds interest by showing what Little Tom is snacking on at the moment, his homework assignments, “photos” of the characters, articles, and other ephemera done in a different style and configuration than the rest of the book. The regular panels move the story along but don’t capture the eye the way the interruptions do. The characters’ hash-marked faces and Tootsie Roll-shaped noses leave the eyebrows and openness of the mouths to show readers the characters’ emotions, but most of the interest is in the action anyway. You still get the gist, and wouldn’t you rather look at an angry monkey?
Mostly written at an early elementary level, the bonus material adds interest and some difficulty that can keep a slightly older reader engaged.
The Big Break Detectives Casebook
by Alan Nolan
The O’Brien Press, 2011