Donald Sobol


He gave the world a young hero whose superpower was simply his smarts.

Donald J. Sobol, the famed children's author who penned the Encyclopedia Brown series of books, died on Wednesday in Miami. He was 87.

His son, John Sobol, confirmed the sad news to the New York Times, saying the cause of death was gastric lymphoma.

After serving in World War II's Pacific Theater, Sobol started out as a copy boy and then reporter for the New York Sun and Long Island Daily Press before turning to writing full time, penning nonfiction tales, mostly directed at children. In 1959 he wrote a syndicated fiction column called Two-Minute Mysteries.

But eventually Sobol would become obsessed with a story he had about a young P.I. named Leroy "Encyclopedia" Brown who solved mysteries in a fictional Florida town named Idaville and only charged 25 cents for his services.

The tale, Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, had a difficult time finding a publisher and was rejected more than two dozen times. But Sobol persisted and the book was published by T. Nelson in 1963, at which time it became an instant success and subsequently spawned more than 27 installments, each of which was a stand-alone mystery. 

The amateur sleuth relied on his intelligence and friends like 10-year-old tomboy Sally Kimball to solve juvenile-themed crimes such as pranks, cheating, petty theft and property damage.

Encyclopedia Brown proved so popular it led to a daily and Sunday comic strip, which Sobol wrote, that ran from 1978 to 1980, as well as a live-action TV series for HBO that aired in 1989.

Sobol reportedly continued to write up until a month before his death. Besides John, he is survived by his wife, another son and daughter and four grandchildren.

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