Tag Archive for Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III

Where James Bond Meets Jigsaw Jones

One of the pleasant things about writing a continuing series is that I get to revisit secondary characters. I first wrote about Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III in the 19th book in the series (as they were once numbered by Scholastic), The Case of the Golden Key. Reginald is the richest kid in town: he and Jigsaw do not immediately hit it off. After some opening tensions, they eventually become friends.

I brought Reginald back in another book, The Case of the Double-Trouble Detective. Again, I enjoyed bouncing these two opposites off each other. Jigsaw is a regular guy, a hardboiled 2nd-grade detective, whereas Reginald wears bowties and eats cucumber sandwiches. Jigsaw, again, helps Reg out of a jam. To repay that debt, Reginald becomes Jigsaw’s “go to” guy in The Case of the Santa Claus Mystery when he needs to borrow some advanced technology. 

 

Illustration by Jamie Smith from THE CASE OF THE SANTA CLAUS MYSTERY. Jamie contributed so much to this series, drawing the interior illustrations for approx. 30 titles. Thanks, my friend, forever in your debt!

In The Santa Claus Mystery, I first used Reginald to pay sly tribute to the classic “Q” character from the James Bond movies. An aside: I very much enjoyed how “Black Panther” updated Q in the character of Shuri, charismatically played by Letitia Wright. It’s a hoot to have that high-tech expert on hand to assist our hero with funky (and entertaining!) gadgets. The scene I wrote in Santa Claus so tickled my funny bone, I felt compelled to bring back a variation of it in the new book, The Case of the Hat Burglar, amazingly the 42nd title in the grand opus.

Let me give you the setup and a brief excerpt. In chapter 7, Jigsaw needs help. Someone has been stealing items from the school’s “Lost and Found.” Jigsaw and Mila visit Joey’s lab seeking assistance:

At the front curb, my brother Billy rolled down the driver’s side window. He called, “I’ll be back to pick you up in an hour, Worm!”

“Thanks for the ride,” I called back. “But don’t call me Worm!”

He zoomed away, leaving Mila and me at Reginald’s front door. I did a few push-ups on the doorbell. Gong-gong-gong.

Mila shivered. She blew clouds of cold air from her mouth.

“Reginald expects us,” I said. “I told him all about the case.”

The front door opened. “Jigsaw and Mila! Splendid, splendid!” Reginald ushered us inside. “It’s frightfully cold out there.”

“Yeah, frightfully,” I echoed.

I noticed that Reginald had on a pair of baby blue bunny slippers. The slippers looked toasty, but they didn’t match his outfit. He wore a sweater-vest over a white shirt and a yellow bow tie. Neat and tidy, as always.

I was glad I didn’t have holes in the toes of my socks.

We shed our winter clothes and kicked off our shoes. Those were the house rules: no shoes, sneakers, or boots. Reginald handed our things to a tall butler, Gus, who had appeared at his side.

“May I take your hat?” Gus asked.

“No, thanks, Gus,” I replied. “There’s too much of that going around already.”

He raised an eyebrow, confused.

“Hat burglars,” I explained. “It’s a thing now. I’d prefer to keep this one on my head, if you don’t mind. We’re kind of a team.”

Gus harrumphed and said, “Suit yourself.”

I harrumphed back.

“Reggie, your house is amazing!” Mila gushed. And she was right. It was amazing — if you liked things like indoor swimming pools and private game rooms and seventeen glistening bathrooms with gold faucets.

I thought it was a little much.

We followed Reginald down a long hallway.

A while back, Reginald had started his own “secret agent” business. It didn’t work out so well. He thought being a detective would be fun, a chance to play with fancy gadgets and gizmos. But Reginald learned that solving mysteries could be a rough business. It took hard work and brainpower. Reggie was a nice kid, but he was as tough as a silk pillow. He promised I could borrow his gadgets anytime.

Today, I needed him to keep that promise.

Reginald pushed open a door, then said over his shoulder to Mila, “Please come into my research room.”

I’d been here once before. The room looked like a laboratory. Various objects had been placed on marble countertops. “This is all your spy equipment?” Mila asked.

She picked up an old boot.

It was a mistake I’d once made myself. “Be careful, Mila,” I warned.

Sploinnng! A suction cup attached to a spring popped out of the sole.

“Whoa,” Mila said, jumping back in surprise.

“Suction-cup boots,” Reginald explained. “For walking on ceilings.”

“It really works?” Mila asked.

Reginald shrugged and admitted, “I’m afraid to find out.”

Mila picked up two plastic goldfish. “What are these?”

“Underwater walkie-talkies,” Reginald explained.

“Glub, glub,” I commented — for no reason at all.

“And this?” Mila pointed to a tray of cucumber sandwiches. “Let me guess. Is it some kind of secret listening device?”

“No, it’s a tray of cucumber sandwiches,” Reginald said. “For snack time.”

“Cucumber sandwiches, yum,” I groaned. It was the last thing in the world I’d want to eat. I was a peanut butter and jelly kind of guy. “Sadly, Reggie, we don’t have time for snacks. We’re here on business.”

Reginald perked up when I told him we needed a way to keep an eye on the Lost and Found.

“We can’t be there to watch it all the time,” Mila explained.

“Ah, I have just the thing.” Reginald walked across the room and picked up a guinea pig plush toy.

“A plush toy?” Mila said.

Reginald used a pinkie to push his glasses back up his nose. “It contains a motion-sensitive camera. The very latest technology,” he said. “Daddy got it on one of his business trips. Just point the nose to the area you wish to watch, and the camera automatically snaps a photo whenever anyone walks past.”

Mila examined it closely. “Perfect,” she announced. “And cute, too.”

“I can have the photos sent to you — to a cell phone, laptop, home computer, whatever you’d like,” Reginald offered. He handed me a headset. “If you’d like, we can communicate using this. Stereo sound, naturally.”

I shook his hand. “Reggie, you’re the cat’s meow.”

He smiled broadly. “My pleasure, Jones. I’m happy to help. But before you go, please take a moment to enjoy a delicious cucumber and cream cheese sandwich.”

He looked up at me through round, hopeful eyes.

I frowned at the tray of sandwiches.

Mila’s eyes twinkled and she gave me a secret nod. I knew what I had to do.

“Sure,” I said to my friend, Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III. “Who doesn’t love a cucumber sandwich?”

 

For those keeping score at home: The brand-new Hat Burglar will be published in Fall, 2019. Golden Key is currently out-of-print, but coming back revised and updated sometime in 2020. Double Trouble and Santa Claus are both out of print — but you never know! By 2020, there will be 14 titles available in bookstores, all published by Feiwel & Friends at Macmillan. Several titles will be offered on Scholastic’s SeeSaw Book Club this year.

A Jigsaw Christmas

Maybe the worst part of writing a series is the nagging sense that, after ten books or so, nobody really notices if the books are any good or not. Especially not your publisher. Your editor cares, for sure, but everyone else . . . shrug. The sum of your work gets reduced down to a number, the notion of “quality” gets subsumed by “quantity” — and the book is as good as its sales figures. I know, I know: Real World 101. But still.

So as part of my continuing “Stories Behind the Story” series, I’d like to put the focus on Jisgaw Jones Super Special #4: The Case of the Santa Claus Mystery. It’s one of my favorites in the series and it’s probably out of print.

When I wrote the book, I really tried to create a great holiday story — a story with value and content that could stand up to any of the Christmas classics. So I decided to tackle a tricky subject: Jigsaw gets hired to prove if Santa is real or not. Now I knew that I had a range of readers with a varying beliefs, and I felt a keen obligation toward them, so I was determined that my book would not spoil it for anyone. In essence, I wrote myself into a box, locked the lid, and like Houdini had to squirm myself out of it.

Here’s an early scene in Jigsaw’s basement office:

Sally Ann’s mood turned serious. She stared hard into my eyes. Her arms were crossed. “I want to meet Santa,” she demanded.

I cracked open my detective journal. “Santa?” I repeated, scribbling down the name. “Last name?”

“Claus,” Sally Ann said.

“Santa . . . Claus,” I wrote.

“That’s the one,” Sally Ann said.

“Big white beard? Wears black books and a red suit? Last seen driving a sleigh led by, let’s see . . .” I flipped through the pages of my journal and pretended to read, “. . . eight flying reindeer?”

Sally Ann didn’t like being teased. She never cracked a smile. Instead, she rummaged inside her pink plastic pocketbook. She pulled out the head of a Barbie doll — that’s it, just the head. Sally Ann frowned and continued poking around. She pulled out some baseball cards, a tissue (used, I suspect), a handful of rocks, beads, a hammer (!), and other assorted junk.

“Here,” she finally said.

Sally Ann smoothed out a dollar bill on my desk.

Illustration by Jamie Smith.

She was serious.

Sally Ann Simms wanted to meet Santa Claus.

And it didn’t seem like she would take no for an answer.

I asked her why.

“We have business to discuss,” she grumbled.

And so the book begins, fueled by the mystery. Along the way, a number of  entertaining events occur — including a sly tribute to Dick Van Dyke. With the help of Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III, sort of standing in for the character “Q” in the James Bond series, Jigsaw planted a hidden camera on Sally Ann’s mantelpiece.

After Christmas,. the only thing left to do was to retrieve the photographic evidence from inside the camera . . .

By December 27, Eddie Becker had already left three telephone messages at my house. I didn’t return the calls. I already knew what Eddie wanted.

A photograph of Santa Claus.

He wanted to get rich. But I just wanted to get it over with.

Mila had said it from the beginning: “I don’t think we should mess around with Santa.”

I was finally beginning to understand what she meant.

After lunch I clomped through the snow to Sally Ann’s house to pick up the daisy camera. I brought Rags so he could play with Pickles. Sally Ann had built a giant snowman on her front lawn. Actually, it was a snowman and a snowdog. She even used a real leash.

I returned home not long after. I brought the camera into my bedroom and stared at it for a long time. I thought about a lot of things. About Santa Claus, about Christmas, and about what it meant. I thought about my parents, and Equinox, and the smiles on the faces of the people when we delivered their holiday meals.

I picked up the vase and turned a leaf, just as Reginald had showed me. A small camera popped out. I remembered his warning. If I expose the film to light, all the photos will be ruined.

“Whatever you do,” Reginald had said, “don’t pull these petals.”

Down the hall, I heard the phone ringing. Probably Eddie Becker again, I figured, eager for his big payday. I took a deep breath . . . held the camera under my lamp . . . and pulled on the petals.

Poof, no proof.

The film was ruined.

Some mysteries don’t need to be solved. I believed in Santa, and I believed in the spirit of Christmas, and I didn’t need to dust for fingerprints to prove it. My heart told me everything I needed to know.

I wasn’t going to mess with Santa. The big man deserved that much. After all, I figured I owed the guy.

Case closed.

A merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

NOTE: This book was dedicated to my editor at Scholastic, Shannon Penney (who remains a loyal blog reader), and also acknowledges the charitable work performed by the staff and volunteers at Equinox, a nonprofit community agency that seres the Capital District area of New York. Jigsaw and his family spend a brief part of this book volunteering at the very same Equinox.

Oh, hey, I might as well include this little scene, because I’m fond of it. Setup: It’s Christmas Eve and Jigsaw is trying to fall asleep. Remember that feeling, in bed on Christmas Eve, just wanting it to come. Jigsaw’s mother enters the room and rubs his back. He’s still just a boy.

“How did you like delivering those meals today?”

I was getting sleepy. “I liked it, I guess.”

“Is that all?”

“It felt like we were doing a good thing,” I said. “I guess that made me feel good, too.”

My mother bent down and kissed me on the cheek. “Funny how that works,” she said. “Good night, Jigsaw. You make me proud. See you in the morning.”

“Good night, Mom. I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

I was alone again. Now my eyelids were heavy.

I didn’t want it to end. Christmas Eve, the most magical night of the year. I just lay there, enjoying it. And then, drifting off easily, tired and happy, I slept.

Fan Mail Wednesday: Thursday Extravaganza Edition, #’s 36-38

Every morning, after I have my cup of coffee, push the kids out the door, and delete my daily email from moveon.org, I like to gather up my accumulated fan mail, pour the letters on my bed, and roll around in them. For forty-five minutes.

Don’t look at me like that. It’s aerobic.

Sometimes, I even get around to answering a few:

Letter #36

Dear Mr. Preller,
I read a Jigsaw Jones book titled The Case of the Golden Key. I liked it because I liked the part where Jigsaw Jones, Mila, and Reginald were looking for the golden key. I also liked this book because I love the illustrations. I loved all the words because some were descriptive.
Sincerely,
Kailey C.

I replied:

Dear Kailey,

Thanks for that nice note. I enjoyed writing that book, partly because it’s the first time I “met” the richest kid in town, Reginald Pinkerton Armitage III. I liked writing about him so much, I kept coming up with reasons for sticking him in other books. I even gave him a featured part in The Case of the Double Trouble Detectives, when Reginald starts his own rival, high-tech detective agency. I love the cover that artist R.W. Alley came up with:

I’m glad you liked the part when they were searching the attic. There’s just something cool about attics, don’t you think? I’m glad, too, that you liked my writing. I try to stick in a “descriptive” word every now and then!

JP

Letter #37

Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
James or Mr.Preller
I love your books.
What made you want to write books?
I saw your family on your web site and your dog is soooooooooooo cute.

From Emma S.

PLEASE WRITE BAAAAAAAACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I replied:

Emma!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am so excited you wrote!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It’s like soooooooo totally awesome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Okay, let me calm down. I’ll make some tea, listen to my new Elvis Perkins CD. What made me want to write books? Well, I guess it’s because I loved reading, loved books. In college, I started writing seriously — I had a great teacher, Pat Meanor, who really inspired me. I think he was the first person who gave me the feeling that maybe I had something in me that needed to come out. That maybe, just maybe, I was a writer. It’s such a great thing when you can find that person who believes in you, no matter what path you pursue in life. Even today, at age 48, I still need that faith, still need that support from an editor, or a friend. We ALL do. In fact, it’s one of the best gifts we can give someone, when we say to them, “I know you can do it.” I coach Little League baseball, and more than anything else, I see that as my primary job: I’m the guy who stands there and believes.

And yes, I agree. My dog is very, very cute.

JP

Letter 38, Part 1

Hello, James:

We are Ane G., Maddi, Leire, Sara, Sabiñe and Ane Go. We like your books, especially Jigsaw Jones books! Maddi and Leire have read them all! You must write more!

We want you to visit us but Neva, our school librarian, does not have enough money to pay you.

It took us a long time to write this, we needed some help. Write back!

Goodbye

I replied:

Dear Ane G, Maddi,, Leire, Sara, Sabine, and Ane Go:

What a fantastic photo, thanks for sending that. And thanks, too, for reading my books.

Such interesting, beautiful names: Where do you go to school?

As an author, my job mostly keeps me at home, working in my basement office. While school visits are a lot of fun, they do keep me away from my main job — which is sitting alone in an empty room, trying to write. With deadlines to meet, a wife that works, and three busy children (ages 8, 9, and 15), it’s hard for me to do many school visits, though I do about one every week in March, April, and May.

Thank you for writing to me!

JP

And got this answer!

Letter 38, Part2

Dear James:

Thanks for writing back so soon! We were very surprised but it has taken us longer to be together again than we thought.

You díd not say when you are going to write another Jigsaw Jones book. Can you recommend any other book, a special one for you?

We go to Deustuko Ikastola, it is in Bilbao, in the Basque Country, in northern Spain. We speak Basque but we also speak Spanish. Have you got any book in Basque?

Good bye. Looking forward to hearing from you! Good luck with your next book!

I replied:

Hello ladies!

I hope you don’t mind that I put your photo up here on my blog. Basque Country, wow, that’s so cool. I traveled in Spain once, years ago, Madrid and Barcelona and along the western coast (where I remember seeing a lot of sun-burnt German tourists). Amazing, beautiful country.

You know, there are so many great books to read, I hesitate to recommend just one. But that would be a boring answer and I try — I really try — to not sound too awfully dull. So: My daughter Maggie (8) and I very much enjoyed reading The Doll People by Ann M. Martin and Laura Godwin. If you like that book, there are a couple of sequels: The Meanest Doll in the World and The Runaway Dolls. The stories are well-written, full of mystery and adventure and, oh yeah, dolls that are alive. But pretty much anything by Ann M. Martin is great.

Okay, Bilbao, I see you up there in the mountains, close to the ocean. Do you call that the Bay of Biscay? I’ve changed my mind: I do want to come for an author visit! Tell Neva the Librarian to do a bake sale or something! I’ll be waiting at the airport.

Your friend in Delmar, New York, America . . .

JP