• The Third Pig Detective Agency & The Ho Ho Mystery by Bob Burke

    Here's a rarity. A special offer. Read one review, get another for free. I was tasked with reviewing The Ho Ho Ho Mystery, the second in a trilogy (so far) of tales about the Third Pig Detective Agency. When the book turned up from the publisher, there were two of them: they had very kindly included the first book in the series, simply called The Third Pig Detective Agency.

    The physical books themselves are worthy of note. They are hard-backed, but no bigger than a paperback. The stories are not epic, so the books are not particularly thick: had they been typical-hardback size, they'd have been even thinner. The cover of each shows the subject of the series in trench coat and hat in poses evocative of a cheap 1950s detective movie. The words "Maltese Falcon" have also been used. The books look and feel good. A nice touch is that they are marked as costing 10 cents (on the back the pricing is rather less 1950s).

    So what of the contents? First, let's consider The Third Pig Detective Agency.

    We quickly learn that Harry Pigg PI was the third pig from the fairy tale, The Three Little Pigs, the one whose house the big bad wolf couldn't blow down.. Yes, really. Hence the company name.

    Harry has set himself up as a private investigator, and as the story opens, it's a quiet day at the office. It turns out that it's always a quiet day at Harry's office.

    A customer turns up. A Mr Aladdin, former laundry boy who made it big after a sudden cash windfall, walks in with his head of security, one Billy-Boat Gruff. Somebody has stolen his magic lamp and he is distraught. But Aladdin is also a very rich and very powerful man. He employs ("coerces" would be a better word) Pigg to take on the seemingly impossible task of recovering the treasured lost lamp.

    I cannot really say too much more without giving away the whole story. It isn't a story that's to be taken seriously. If you know your nursery rhymes and fairy tales, you'll enjoy spotting the references that come thick and fast. There is a story line and it fairly rattles along. At the end of the day everybody bar the villains lives happily ever after.

    To the second book, the one I was asked to review, The Ho Ho Ho Mystery.

    Following directly on from its predecessor (literally: the last couple of pages of the first book introduced the second story), this story starts with a Mrs Claus reporting her husband having gone missing, a couple of days before his busiest night of the year (go figure). Harry and the two assistants he collected in the first book have to get him back to his place of work at the North Pole in time to save Christmas for millions of kids.

    What sets this book apart from most literature is that it has an unexpected twist that explains one of the most enigmatic Christmas questions that has been asked by children (and parents) down the years. I couldn't possibly spoil it.

    But now comes the conundrum. Who exactly is the series aimed at? The author, Bob Burke, works in IT (a noble trade, but I would say that, wouldn't I?) and according to the blurb he has three sons. (He is also a Chelsea supporter: each of us has a cross to bear - and as a Sunderland supporter I mean that most sincerely, folks) I suspect that he wrote the books for his sons, having taught them nursery rhymes and fairy tales when they were young, then extended the idea into this line.

    It works for me. I fairly chuckled my way through the books, which were beautifully written and properly edited: I have reviewed enough modern literature where, because syntax, grammar, spelling and punctuation are not essential to the plot, the author has not seen fit to get his work checked before it went to the printers. I really hate reading something that has been sloppily thrown together. Mercifully, there is no problem with these books, which are, frankly, beautifully crafted.

    Will it work? Not for lack of effort. The author has put a lot of time, effort and dare I say love into crafting this series. It's an easy enough read for an adult, and probably equally so for any teenager or pre-teenager who wants to read. But would they want to read it? I don't see an adult picking one up from the shelves of his local bookstore to read to himself. No teenager would be caught dead reading it. And a pre-teenager might struggle with some of the Maltese Falconesque references.

    I encouraged my own son to give them a whirl (he's 26). If he'd read it a dozen years ago, he'd probably have enjoyed it, but he didn't get on with it.

    As I have already said, I commend Mr Burke for the effort he has put into these works, and his publisher and all the people he himself acknowledges in his credits. The blurb describes this as "destined to become a cult detective series." I can see where this claim is coming from. Do I see the Army Rumour Service community at large going for these books? Frankly no.

    This has been an extremely difficult review to write because I'd like to see the series work, but I don't expect to see Mr Burke retire from IT from the proceeds of these books. Not for the want of his trying to make the series work.

    One question remains. Do I buy the third book in the series, The Curds and Whey Mystery? Or do I hope that somebody buys it for me? Well, the former is easy to answer. I was in my bookstore of choice at the weekend and it never crossed my mind.


    and a half!