Microreview: Big Trouble (Friday Barnes #3)

“The family resemblance is remarkable,” said Melanie.

“Yes,” agreed Ian. “And it’s not just the brown cardigan. it’s the total ignorance of social normality.”

“Not now,” said Friday. (p. 3)

Big Trouble is the third Friday Barnes mystery by R. JA Spratt and illustrated by Phil Gosier, preceded by Girl Detective and Under Suspicion, and followed by No Rules. (Links are to Nafiza’s reviews.)

Like the previous two Friday Barnes, the plot is episodic with a primary mystery (or three) that runs throughout the story. The pace is snappy, the quips fly (SO many insults) —

“Well, you could have my father come in and have a look around to see what is missing or misplaced,” said Friday. “But he is a theoretical physicist, with tenure, so he is about as aware of his physical surroundings as a dead geranium.” (9-10)

— and there in, however incrementally, character development. their edges have softened. Melanie, Friday’s best friend, is thoroughly devoted to sleep, but significantly less timid than she was in the first two books. Ian, Friday’s rival/possible love interest, is (at last!) less obnoxious than before, although that may be primarily because he needs Friday’s help.

“Can it,” said Ian. “I don’t need your sympathy.”

“I don’t suppose you do,” said Friday. “You need an ice pack. Crush injuries should be treated with ice and elevation.” (249)

The Headmaster is less ominously, less overtly, tyrannous; Melanie’s brother, Binky, is sweet and relatively self-aware for so stupid a boy. Friday’s social skills have developed rather remarkably without a commensurate loss of brain —

“Just because we are standing in an unpleasant-smelling attic, in the dark, in the middle of the night, surrounded by spiderwebs, animal droppings, and goodness knows how many rodents, that does not mean that the rules of common sense no longer apply,” said Friday. “We are perfectly safe here.” (200)

— and, happily for the reader, she is still prone to physical disaster, and to being dragged to the principal’s office.

What has sharpened, however, as this series continues, is Friday’s (and the readers’) awareness of how awful her parents are at being parents. The Dr. Barneses may be geniuses, but they really aren’t any better than the absurdly wealthy parents of Friday’s classmates, worse than some, even.

“I was being sarcastic,” said Friday. “You’re a grown man. You should be able to look after yourself.”

“But I never have before,” said Dr. Barnes. “You can’t expect me to take on a new role without a discussion, written instructions, and a training program.” (27)

I liked the change. The overarching mystery(ies?) this time were fairly obvious, but the adventures along the way were entertaining. Binky’s crush on Debbie was sweet, as was Melanie’s emergency interaction with a teacher who also likes naps.

I did not care so much for the looming iceberg that is Friday and Ian’s (incipient? is it even incipient anymore?) romance; Melanie’s comments about their supposed feelings were too frequent and obvious to sparkle. Friday, happily, remains level-headed despite strange new feelings.

“Your mother calls you ‘Sausage’?” said Friday. “I’m so glad we came. This is better than being paid in money.” (103)

Overall, a good book for an hour of entertaining hijinks. I do suggest you start with the first book and read them in order, to watch the character development and avoid spoilers; but this isn’t essential. The stories are funny either way.

“Is that what you call this color?” asked Friday. “I would have said blue.”

“No, green,” said Ian, looking over her shoulder.

“No, definitely aquamarine,” said Melanie happily. “It’s the calling card of the Aquamarine Pimpernel.” (95)

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