This story originally aired on May 26, 2016.
Kid detective stories can be exhilarating for young readers, as they imagine themselves in the very adult position of solving crimes. Denver author Adam Lipsius taps into that with his new noir-inspired detective novel "Knox Chase On The Case of the Valentine's Day Mystery."
The book has been a passion project for Lipsius since 2008. He's a professional filmmaker and the production company he co-owns with his wife, Uptown 6, will adapt the book into a film.
Lipsius' main character, 12-year-old KC Green, writes a Valentine's Day poem to his crush. On his way to school, KC bumps into a hooded stranger, who's carrying a large envelope. KC doesn't know it at the time, but the letters get switched. He ends up delivering a threatening note to his potential Valentine that reads: "Give me the piggy, and no one gets hurt."
Thus begins the mystery of who wrote the letter and what they want. Helping KC crack the case is Knox Chase, a noir-style detective only KC can see.
Lipsius spoke with Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner and guest co-host Aritra Nag of Fort Collins. Nag, who's in the eighth grade, was a finalist in the StoryMakers writing contest from Rocky Mountain PBS.
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Editor's note: Lipsius is a member of the CPR Community Advisory Board.
Read an excerpt:
THE NIGHT BEFORE EVERYTHING WENT COMPLETELY WRONG... WHEN STUFF JUST HAPPENED BADLY, IN A REGULAR SORT OF WAY...
"KC Green / Private Eye." The letters were brush-stroked into a circle on a second story window so you could read them from the small-town street below. They felt so professional, you couldn't tell they'd been hand painted by an even smaller boy. KC Green did it the evening his family moved in to their old new house on the best worst day he'd ever had. All these years later, he still hadn't gotten a single client from stenciling his name backwards on the glass, but his sign had brought him a lot more business than he'd bargained for.
It was past one in the morning on the night before Valentine's Day, and those words were projected from the light of a lamp post down below. They hovered on the ceiling over the sleeping investigator's head in a shadowy bulls-eye, framed by the bannisters of his old wooden bed. Everything seemed quiet, except KC shook uneasily in pajamas that barely still fit from his eighth birthday. He was almost twelve now.
Yellow-white light reflected off of his ceiling and washed over the young detective's cluttered bedroom. In its glow, the tousled, brown haired boy didn't look funny or funny peculiar. He looked handsome -- old ladies always told him how good-looking he was, and when his eyes were open, they were big and brown and smiling almost all the time.
His room resembled an old-fashioned movie-set filled with film noir touches. He had his Dad's original Knox Chase on the Case books on oak shelves. There was a mission-style wooden desk with a shaded green lamp turned down low and a brass stand for a fifty-four inch gumshoe's trench coat.
Surrounded by his vintage treasures, the reflected glare didn't shine light on anything other than a 6th grader sleeping uneasily. As he rolled over into shadow and tucked into a little ball, though, KC's face furrowed like he expected something.
"Pssst...," hissed the voice of someone who wasn't there. "Pal...., KC."
A tall man who could pass for a silent film star appeared in the room, but not through any door. Instead, he just flickered into being, as if pure light had whirred into human form out of some black and white movie. One second there was nothing, and the next instant this old fashioned detective from a pulp fiction magazine was towering over KC's bed.
He had a weathery face that was always 5 o'clock and bearded stubble no razor had ever really shaved. Sepia-toned, like photos of somebody's great grandfather after some war, he wore a trench coat and fedora hat covering up a full head of hair, a rumpled suit and other peoples' secrets.
Black and white and gray, like granite, he was both there and not there at the same time. Illuminated somehow, he seemed to pop and brighten and sputter, but there was no movie projector playing anywhere. It was like he'd walked off the set of his last film and into the present day in search of a new script to play.
This was no ordinary person. It was Knox Chase, the hero of hundreds of unsolvable mysteries, and he fidgeted, impatient to get back on the case.
"To sleep perchance to dream, my friend, but the rub is you gotta wake up. Right now." Knox drew two fingers to his lips and horse-whistled.
"Knox!" KC hugged his mattress tighter, pleading "I don't want to play chess, I was..."
"You don't care about a case, that's your business. But I don't take responsibility so lightly," Knox intoned.
KC opened one eye a tiny sliver and turned to ask, "What case?"
"Even when you're not on a case, you're on a case. Entiende?"
"No," KC groaned, and his one eye rolled closed.
Knox lectured him, "Bad guys don't sleep - not literally, of course - everybody sleeps--"
"Not you," KC surrendered, "and not me when you're around." He swung his feet over, slouched up and heaved himself out of bed, "Why are you here right now?"
"A funny feeling that something isn't right," Knox said, watching KC don his fedora from the bedpost and snatch a contraption from the desk. "All a private eye has is his instincts. At best a clue points due North, but it's your job to find the trail. And that's instinct."
KC chuckled as he unfurled his tin can monoscope into a full-length spy device. He shook his head and scanned the small-town's quiet streets.
His Dad had started reading Knox's pearls of wisdom to him back when he was still in his mom's womb. The real-life detective had shown up to finish his 'education' as soon as his family got to Cornelia. Only, with Knox teaching him, KC felt like graduation was not in the plans. The pulp fiction anti-hero of sixteen novels, four movies and hundreds of comic books had never once been at a loss for lessons, and since he was stuck following around a kid in the middle of nowhere, Knox's biggest trouble was there was never enough trouble.
"Do you see it, yet?" Knox asked, betraying the grin he was feeling within.
KC looked harder. He scanned the houses across the street. Through the looking glass he'd soldered together with thick lenses and soup and sauce cans, he poured over the neighborhood inch by inch. By lucky coincidence, he finally caught a flash of something white in a tree in Memorial Square.
"What is that?" KC asked, focusing on the branches around the flashing foot but seeing nothing more than leaves shaking.
He could have sworn it was a sneaker... in a tree... in the center of town. But why would that be there?
"There's one way to know something, and I mean know it..." Knox began.
"You mean besides you just telling me," KC yawned.
Knox never just told KC what he knew. You think anybody gave me a hand-out when I was starting-out, kid? Sure! With a balled up fist...
"To find out for yourself," Knox winked.
KC sighed and looked at the rumpled sheets he might not see again that night. He pulled on sweat pants over his pajamas and slipped into a pair of high-tops parked at the base of his bed.
"Pavement, greet our feet," Knox declared as he flickered out.
It was like the film frames on a movie screen whirring to a stop.
KC laced up his shoes, muttering, "If you even have feet..."
"I heard that," Knox echoed invisibly.
KC rolled his eyes, grabbed his cell phone from the counter, slid the monoscope into his backpack and put his trench coat on from the rack. Then he snuck out the door.
From KNOX CHASE ON THE CASE OF THE VALENTINE'S DAY MYSTERY by Adam Lipsius. Copyright © 2016 by Adam Lipsius. Reprinted by permission of Adam Lipsius/Uptown 6, LLC.