A Criminal Encyclopedia Brown: Artemis Fowl

artemisfowlbookcoverEoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl is a decent book. There are some strong moments of writing and action, but there are other moments where I felt like other books began to shine through Artemis Fowl‘s texture (and not in a good way). This series is a mix of Encyclopedia Brown, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, and the cartoon Dexter’s Laboratory.  Artemis Fowl, the protagonist, is a teenage genius born into a prominent Irish criminal family. His father has gone missing and his mother has gone slightly crazy as a result. The family’s fortunes are failing, so he has taken it upon himself to make some money.

The novel starts in media res with Fowl attempting to track down a fairy. After doing copious amounts of research, he becomes convinced they are real and is hoping to steal some of their gold. The story moves back and forth between Fowl, Captain Holly Short, and elf policewoman of sorts whom Fowl kidnaps, and Commander Root, Short’s boss and head of the recovery team sent to get Short back. The second half of the novel focuses on Fowl Manor as Root and his men’s attempt to get Short back from Fowl, who seems to be able to predict their every move. The action moves quickly and Colfer has a good sense of pacing, enough to keep me up late last night finishing the book.

I guess my problem with Artemis Fowl is that it lacked a little individuality. As I said earlier, it read like a mix of other books, but not in a flattering way. I used to love the Encyclopedia Brown series, and Fowl comes across a like a criminal Brown. The Fowl Manor section also reads like a Sherlock Holmes mystery although not nearly as complex or as taut as Arthur Conan Doyle wrote them. Where I felt the novel began to take on its own character was in the interactions between Short, Fowl and the two Butlers. Near the end, I got the sense that a relationship was developing between them despite Fowl’s kidnapping of the elf. This relationship becomes the focus of the next few novels (I did some Wikipedia research) and I think that the next few books probably come into their own in a way that this one did not.

Part of my dissatisfaction might stem from the conventions of children’s literature itself. It seems like publishers are demanding that writers produce marketable series rather than individual works in their own right. The vast success of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series blazed the way, but remembering my childhood many children’s books were series. I used to love the Hardy Boys series and that was template writing if I’ve ever seen it. I am not suggesting that Colfer is following a template, but it does seem like his hands are tied in having to set up enough in the first novel of a series to continue it over several books while still trying to craft an interesting narrative to pull readers in. Artemis Fowl is not a bad book, it was an enjoyable read. I just felt like it treaded familiar ground without really adding anything to it.

I would recommend this book to lovers of children’s fantasy.

Colfer, Eoin. Artemis Fowl. Rockland, MA: Wheeler Publishing, 2001. Print.


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