Cover of The Key Word and Other Mysteries
Book 190 Mystery Collection 1977
The Golden Door Asimov’s Sherlockian Limericks
1 spaceship-and-sun
Asimov fan
2 spaceships-and-suns
Target reader

New York City’s Youngest Detective Tackles Crime

A Criminal Code Hidden in a Crossword Puzzle

A Rare Coin in a Santa Claus Collection Bucket

A Bomb Threat to the United Nations

Larry solves these mysteries (and more), out-sleuthing his detective father in the process. His capers take him all over New York City—from the Museum of Natural History to the United Natoins—and back to his dictionary whwere he finds one “key word” that cracks each case.

This is the first of two collections of “Larry” mysteries, about the son of a New York police detective who helps his father on some of his more baffling cases. The intended audience is rather younger than I am—several of the stories first appeared in Boys’ Life, a magazine for Boy Scouts—but I still like the stories, mainly for sentimental reasons: I was a subscriber to Boys’ Life when “Sarah Tops” appeared. (This is the main reason I tend to rate the book higher than the other “Larry” collection, The Disappearing Man and Other Mysteries.)

As with Asimov’s other short mystery series— the Black Widower stories and the Union Club mysteries—what we have here are basically brainteasers inside a narrative wrapper. I’m rather poor at brainteasers and I never try to figure out Asimov’s puzzles in advance (I just read the stories through), so I cannot always evaluate how somebody who does try to figure the puzzles out would enjoy the stories. I tend to base my feelings on how plausible the puzzle ends up being in hindsight.

Unfortunately, here, I tend to think that my favorite story (“Sarah Tops”) has a decidedly implausible premise. I cannot imagine anybody gasping out the syllables “try sarah tops” and not having their listeners think “dinosaur.” (Of course, I didn’t when I first read the story, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thinking that “Sarah Tops” is a name really stretched things here.

We also have a tendency to depend on obscure points (do you know John Garner’s middle name without looking it up?), but the explanations are generally satisfactory when seen backwards, and I otherwise enjoy the stories.

Unfortunately, Asimov’s personal favorite in the collection (“The Thirteenth Day of Christmas”) has become slightly outdated because of the advance of geography (there’s no Soviet Union anymore)—but it doesn’t really matter very much and doesn’t detract from the story itself, which I tend to enjoy because of the vivid scene of Larry figuring out the solution to the mystery but being unable to do anything in it because he’s caught in a Christmas program and stuck singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s a nice little point and one can genuinely appreciate his frustration.

On the whole, I think the stories are clever, and easy reading for a teenager or even a preteen (my eight-year-old daughter has read and enjoyed them). An adult might not get much out of the book, but I would certainly recommend it to a younger fan of mysteries.

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