In the small town of Hilldale, 11 year-old,Adam Parker and his friends ran The Parker Detective Agency, and the bad guys ran for cover. No job too small, no crime too large. Then Adam became a teenager, and being a kid detective was no longer cool. He turned his back on the agency and his best friend, Kevin Simpson, and the girl next door, Becky Wilson. The agency was no more.
Years later, Adam struggles to find his way, bouncing from job to job, never finding one that fits him just right. He dreams of becoming an actor, but after losing out on role after role through the community theater scene and watching his acting rival steal away his girlfriend, Adam’s life collapses around him. He returns to Hilldale and calls his best friend and former agency partner, Kevin.
Kevin’s father’s hardware store is burglarized and Adam agrees to talk a look for “old time’s sake.” Trying to solve the crime isn’t a strong enough pull to keep Adam interested, but when Becky Wilson jumps at a chance to reunite and solve one more case, Adam is gung-ho for action.
The burglary is just the beginning of a trail that leads to a deranged former boy scout bent on destroying the lives of everyone in the town of Hilldale. Adam struggles with his doubts, all the while drawing closer to this madman.
For anyone who grew up reading kid-lit mysteries, this idea of getting an old gang of kid Encyclopedia Brown-style kid detectives back together again is irresistible. Now Adam, Kevin, and Becky are all grown up and dealing with job angst, failed relationships and, in Becky’s case, kids of her own.
With a deranged former scout building a bomb in a backyard shed in leafy suburban Hilldale, one would think this book would be almost comically action-packed. In some sections, the book does feel almost cartoon-like. In one scene Adam tries to break into his mom’s house, closed up since she took off to Florida for retirement. He gets stuck in the basement window. It’s late at night and he falls asleep—stuck halfway in and halfway out of the window. (Really?) In the morning the cops drag him out like a ragdoll. These kinds of antics are fine in Saturday morning cartoons, perhaps, but they don’t quite work here.
On the other hand, oddly, the book is clogged up with a whole lot of internal dialogue about the nature of friendship, longing for the past, regret, and self-doubt. These are adults taking another swing at the kind of adventures they had as kids, so one would expect some introspection. But these scenes were somewhat repetitive, and not as complex or interesting as they could have been.
The book’s wild swings from wacky adventure to navel-gazing consideration of adulthood and friendship was disjointed. Opportunities were missed for thoughtful and even philosophical contemplations of things lost in the past. These serious issues should have either been handled in a more sophisticated manner, or left out altogether. A group of screwy grown-ups ranging through bucolic Hilldale in search of a deranged scout—with nary a thought to the larger meaning of it all—would have been just fine!
Adam Parker and the Radioactive Scout is tempting for any adult who grew up on a steady diet of Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and also Scooby Doo and especially Encyclopedia Brown. The book is infused with Michael Field’s affection for the kid detective genre. The concept is great, but the delivery left me wishing for something different.
The Rating3 Stars (out of 5): Pretty good. Sure, there were some issues, but it was still worth the read.
The Pros & ConsPros: Humor
Cons: Dialogue, Plot Sometimes Jumpy