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Andy Prest: I've discovered something mysterious and wonderful for your summer entertainment

'The Mysterious Benedict Society' is the new book series I didn't know I needed
Mystery reading (Getty Images)

No social commentary or wild tangents in this week’s column, just a recommendation of something I think might bring you a little joy.

It’s called The Mysterious Benedict Society, and it’s both a series of books and a new TV series streaming on Disney Plus.

The books, written by Trenton Lee Stewart, are just fantastic. I love them, my kids love them, my wife and my sister-in-law love them, my dad – a retired English professor – loves them.

We discovered the series with some help from the Google machine. We’d survived the harrowing and epic ordeal of reading the Harry Potter series to our children – watch out for Book 5, which is approximately six billion pages of moody teenage whining – and were looking for something new to read.

My wife then went on the internets and searched for recommendations for things to read once you’ve finished reading Harry Potter. A few weird ones popped up, and then there was The Mysterious Benedict Society, which is both weird and wonderful.

It starts with a group of children sitting through a series of tests. Sounds thrilling, doesn’t it?! But you’re hooked immediately by how, well, mysterious it all is, and the tests present fascinating riddles and questions that are indeed quite thrilling for kids and adults who love problem-solving.

Eventually four kids, each supremely gifted in different ways, emerge victorious from the tests: Reynard Muldoon, George “Sticky” Washington, Kate Weatherall and Constance Contraire. And what is their prize? Well, this being a children’s book series, they are of course thrown almost immediately into deadly peril after learning that the fate of the entire world rests in their hands. 

There are four books in the main series, a fifth that is a fantastic prequel about the mysterious Mr. Benedict, and a companion book of riddles and puzzles.

They’re all great – sophisticated, funny, and intelligent, with powerful messaging about the importance of truth, empathy and love. I read them through with my kids, and then we started back at the beginning and read them all again. And both my kids have read them on their own, multiple times.

Not that there is anything wrong with the epic Harry Potter series, aside from some truly outrageous page counts and the absurd rules for the game of Quidditch, but if I had the choice between reading that series or the Benedict society series, I’d choose Benedict every time. 

And for those not into the whole reading thing, Benedict is now on TV! Disney Plus began with a pair of episodes June 25 and is releasing a new one every week.

It’s hilarious to see my children, who have grown up in an instant-access YouTube world, watch a TV episode and then agonize over the fact that they need to wait a whole week to find out what happens next. That’s how we did things in the old days, boys. By which I mean 1992.

The actors in the series are spot on, with a standout performance from Kristen Schaal as Number Two, a character we first meet as she is administering the tests.

“Anyone caught cheating will be executed,” she says, before eventually, with a delightful stammer, correcting her statement to “excused.”

It’s all well done, and stays true to the source material. And If you’re still not sold, residents of the Vancouver area will get a kick out of the scenery. The opening credits contain a cool shot of a bird flying towards a funky-looking harbour city. The bird rounds a corner and then – surprise! – you’re flying straight through Gastown. Much of the series was filmed in the Vancouver area, and spotting local landmarks is just one more fun piece of the mystery. 

The only problem now is that we need a new series to read that matches this high standard.

If you’ve got any recommendations, I’d love to hear them — and I’ll share them out on our social media channels.

As for the Benedict society, books and TV show, I give them all my biggest stamp of approval, particularly for inquisitive kids and their fun-loving parents. I’ve even overlooked the fact that I have to pay a bit of money to Disney to watch it.

It’s worth it. And if fires, heat waves, or deadly viruses have you hiding inside on these summer days, now you have a whole new society ready to keep you company.