THE MYSTERY OF MR. NICE: A CHET GECKO MYSTERY, by Bruce Hale

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Bruce Hale’s Chet Gecko series is based on a clever and very fruitful premise – a gecko detective in a zany elementary school exclusively populated by animals. And Hale very clearly knows how to spin a mystery. But the thing that really shines in these books is the language.

Hale writes in a silly, stylized parody of classic noir. He exaggerates the genre’s use of odd, figurative phrases. Every other page contains yet another delightful expression.

“I pushed my hat back on my head and let my eyes go as dull as a lawn mower in a rock garden.”

“[Her] desk was so neat, it was scarier than a piggyback ride on a porcupine.”

“Moving slower than a parent-teacher conference, we sneaked up the driveway, past the barbed wire, and through the bushes.”

“The crook chuckled deep in his chest. It sounded like an alligator digesting a handbag salesman.”

“[His] whistle cut through the pandemonium like a belch through a church service.”

“If ugliness were art, he’d have been the Moan-a Lisa.”

And yes, these are funny. Yes, they are an excellent sendup of one of noir’s favorite ticks. But more importantly, after only a handful of pages, Hale’s playful attitude becomes infectious. Every additional quirky phrase and groan-inducing pun is like an invitation to try your own hand at it, and the silliness of so much of the book’s subject matter will set younger readers at ease and help them feel more confident, more certain that they, too, can be similarly creative.

These books are great for kids just getting started on mid-sized chapter books, and especially those kids that have an interest in animals and/or mysteries. They’re good, too, for readers of any age who enjoy watching a talented wordsmith toy around with the English language.

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