Donald J. Sobol, R.I.P.

The author of the Encyclopedia Brown mysteries has died.

My father still enjoys telling people how I set up a detective agency in the garage and distributed handwritten business cards to everyone in the neighborhood after reading the Brown books. Some woman on our block asked my father if he would look for her sweater, mistaking him for me, the real detective. The business tanked after one case, when it became obvious that I couldn’t deduce my way out of a paper bag.

I didn’t read Sobol’s “Two-Minute Mysteries” until later, and was astonished to find that he—like Raymond Chandler, Ellery Queen, James Cain, and tons of others, I suppose—reused plots from this older book for his later mysteries.

Years later, I had the chance to interview Sobol by phone when I was working at Scholastic. He was incredibly down to earth. When I asked what he did for fun or exercise, he said most days he was lucky if he got up from his desk and made it to the refrigerator. Then, at the end of the interview, I mentioned in passing that this particular Scholastic magazine would be reprinting one of the Brown mysteries to accompany the Q&A I was writing.

In a line that sort of presaged my own future, Sobol replied, “Am I getting paid for this? I mean, if it’s just a few bucks, no big deal. But if it’s $25, send me the check.”

We’ll all miss him.