Please Note: This post took me a long time to finish. Not the writing. That usually goes pretty quick. As it did here. But the photos… I finally got them in a quality I can approve. Mostly! Enjoy!
Hardboiled detective stories are an all-time favourite of mine. Novels like Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep or Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (both immortalized starring the great Humphrey Bogart) breathe so much coolness, style and little bit of melancholy, while at the same time peek into the shady aspects of human life – just an irresistible mixture!
No surprise that, when I decided to enter the wonderful world of Creator Expert Sets, the Detective’s Office was high up on my list. The set consists of eponymous Detective’s Office, that sits on top of a pool hall, with the fancy name “The Highlander”, while an old style Barbershop with brick-built barber-pole, is located in the adjacent building and a two store-apartment on top of it. The pictures were promising a lovely scenic piece of 1930s Americana, and probably the most hardboiled a Lego set will ever be. Lets find out, if it could hold up to my expectations. Please note, that since this is my first set of this kind, this might become a quite extensive article. You have been warned and stuff!
When opening the, quite sizeable box, you will notice the many many bags inside. Unlike regular sets though, the amount of numbered bags is much less compared to the sheer number of pieces. For the Detective’s Office, with its 2262 pieces, the numbers go only up to 4, which makes for a more complex building experience, with more searching for pieces, more complicated steps and less of the one-brick-per-instructions-page-syndrome, Lego sets usually have today.
The instructions come in a nicely bound, sizeable booklet and are usually pretty easy to follow. Sometimes the exact position of a piece is not quite clear and it happened to me once or twice that the colour of one of small pieces 1×1 plate wasn’t quite clear, but most of the time you get along well as long you stay focused and take your time.
I find this aspect one of the most charming, btw: finding and counting the pieces, putting them carefully one by one on the baseplate, where they snap gently into the studs… I might not be the person for Yoga or something like htat, but building a set like this does the trick for me – it is very meditative and certainly doesn’t wants to be rushed. In fact, it is so utterly focusing and zen!
Apart from a couple of spots where it really couldn’t be a avoided, the whole building process was interesting and without much repetition. There are some fancy building techniques, that I really enjoyed, like the half-stuff offset windows, the barbershop sign, the pool table and in general the way the set creates surface textures with often very common pieces. I think that is very much a strength of this set: it doesn’t rely on spectacular new moulds or dedicated limited-purpose pieces: Almost everything you encounter is done with quite regular Lego bricks – its just the sheer inventiveness how they are combined with each other that lets the creator expert-series stand out. You really get the impression the set designer placed every single piece just the way it should be: It all feels very complete and well conceived, just as it should be for a set of this level and pricing really.
The Detective’s Office achieves something really impressive in this sense. At the one side you are building with very inventive techniques and at a level of detail unseen on regular sets, at the other side it feels, in a very positive way, also quite oldschool: you build solid walls, with a good amount of conventional brick-on-brick technique. Maybe its because this is my first Creator Expert-set, but the building experience alone was highly enjoyable and – different.
Once the set is finished (I recommend doing it in moderate sessions of not more than one set of bags each), you have a lovely (and quite weighty) little city-scene somewhere out of time between present-day and the 1930s, beautifully detailed inside and out.
Sadly the set is not perfect. The interiors are a little bit too small. I would have welcomed a bar for the pool hall for example, and a better furnished, larger flat above the barbershop. Or at least a door for it! As it is now, it feels utterly tiny and incomplete. Which is really a pity, taking into account how generally well the interiors are made and what attention went into detailing. Their small size also makes it also quite difficult to reach certain areas. A few more studs here and there would have worked miracles in that regard.
I might address these issues and extend the builds a bit in the future. Maybe removing the rear walls, or adding more depth. Both solutions hopefully also allow for better access.
The back(or bake)story isn’t great either. Fair enough, a proper prohibition era-case with a brick-built still would overstep things a little, but illegal cookie moonshine-baking is just a bit too silly for the adult market this set is clearly aimed at. I also don’t really believe our Detective would want to blow this little baking ring anyway. Cookies are just too good to resist! So why not have a share of the business for himself? Luckily, the secret cookie-passage is not too invasive. Only in the barber shop it feels like it eats up a little too much space at the rear. At least you get some nice cookie-tiles and a barrel.
As for the Minifigures, you get a decent line-up of characters. Detective Ace Brickman of course, the inevitable blonde in a red dress (and some naughty baking habits), a police officer, Al the barber, two pool hall regulars – and a cute little kitten! Their designs are perfectly suiting to their occasion, but nothing revolutionary. Fair enough. They are city people after all, not super heroes!
Please note that I replaced the oldschool smiley faces, that have been standard with these sets up until the recently released Downtown Diner, with modern, more expressive ones. So don’t be surprised if, when you buy this set, you encounter some blank, 80s style smiles instead of the modern ones. Its just a minor swap, if you have the pieces, but this just adds so much more cuteness and personality to it.
All in all I find the Detective’s Office a very convincing set. The building experience is just that – it is an experience in the best sense of the word. It is also a beautiful deco-piece, but due to its mild crime-related theme maybe a bit of an outlier compared to the other modulars. The weakest point of the set, despite their beauty and whimsical furnishing, are the interiors. They just feel a bit too small. Apart from this issue, it is certainly an excellent addition to the other modular Creator Expert sets. As a standalone, in a regular city-layout, it might appear a bit out of place due to its rich front detailing, pretty featureless side-walls (after all, its made for being linked together in a street-layout) and sheer dimensions. It definitely wants to be in a busy downtown area with buildings surrounding it.
Very enjoyable building experience with very few repetitions.
Interesting building techniques.
Solid and substantial feel of the finished set.
Richly detailed interiors.
Too small interiors, especially the flat above the barbershop.