Monday, March 14, 2016

The Game Is On! Trouble in Bugland: A Collection of Inspector Mantis Mysteries by William Kotzwinkle

The disappearance of Miss Juliana butterfly brought two familiar figures through the fog--one of them tall and slow-moving, the other short and quick.

"A most disturbing thing" said Doctor Hopper, assistant to Inspector Mantis.

"Miss Juliana is a circus performer, is she not?" inquired the Inspector

"A bareback rider." Doctor Hopper tapped his cane on the pave. "One of the loveliest creatures ever to circle the ring."

"I see," said Inspector Mantis. "And did you enjoy yesterday's performance?"

Doctor Hopper looked up with surprise. "Why, how did you know I was there?"

"That bit of straw which still clings to your trouser cuff---" He touched Hopper's scarf "--a piece of peanut shell here. And--" Inspector Mantis gestured with his long arm. "--you have cotton candy in your mustache."

And the game is on, with super-sleuth Mantis and loyal sidekick Hopper off  in a hackney to the circus arena of impressario P. T. Barnworm for some sleuthing out of clues. And Inspector Mantis does not fail as he studies the sawdust in the ring where the beauteous butterfly disappeared in mid-act the night before. And sticking to the bottom of his shoes, he finds the clue he seeks.

"Miss Juliana was seized by a gang of Assassin Bugs. Their traces are everywhere around the ring. Let us hurry, Doctor, before the threads of this case are blown away by the winds of time."

With an entomological but distinctly Victorian setting for the classic characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, William Kotzwinkle slyly sets his six-legged detectives on the trail, encountering the usual colorful characters, a poison-peddling tick in cahoots with A. Stinkbug, Esquire, whose shop provides the sinister potions put to use by the nefarious criminal, The Tarantula, who holds the lovely Juliana in thrall in his lair.

In five Inspector Mantis cases, author William Kotzwinkle's new edition of Trouble in Bugland: A Collection of Inspector Mantis Mysteries (Godine Storyteller) (Godine Books, 2015 ed.) whisks readers to foggy old England, er, Bugland, in a parody that features the brainy master detective and his doughty assistant in stories which, like their model, set out from their snug flat on Flea Street into the foggy, grimy city and by railway carriage into nineteenth-century countryside, with a cast of characters such as Professor Channing Buglouse, The Duchess of Doodlebug, Gallgnat, J. P. Suckbeetle, and Walking-Stick, who seems a stand-in for Sherlock's brilliant brother Mycroft.

Readers who have encountered Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in almost any format, will enjoy the language and quickly pick up on the satire in these insectivorous spinoffs, but all detective story fans will gladly follow Inspector Mantis and enjoy his methodical collection of clues and rational observations which invariably lead to the solution of the crime. Kotzwinkle's stories are abetted by his partner in crime, artist Joe Servello, whose blackline drawings, in meticulously crosshatched and detailed rococo illustrations, some in sumptuous color, evoke the atmosphere of the era perfectly.

Children who know Conan Doyle's Holmes will most enjoy Trouble in Bugland. But even those who don't are likely to appreciate the book's sly mock seriousness and flights of rhetoric and imagination," says The New York Times Book Review



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