You Killed Wesley Payne by Sean Beaudoin
Where I got it and why: From the library, on the strength of a recommendation from bookshelves of doom.
Recommended? If you’re a fan of noir detective stories or high school settings – crazy high school settings.
Review: It took me until I was at least five chapters in to decide I actually liked this book, and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about it. Partly I think that’s because it’s set in a kind of weird high school alternate universe dystopia: all the cliques are running rackets, even the teachers are in on it, and everybody takes a teenage private dick perfectly seriously. I found it hard to get settled in to the book, not knowing what kind of reality we were in. (Maybe I just read too much SF, and if I didn’t it would have been easier.) It was sure as hell fun, though.
Dalton Rev is a private detective, and he’s transferred into Salt River High to investigate the death of Wesley Payne, one of the only kids in the school who wasn’t involved with some racket or another. Everyone says it’s suicide – everyone but Wesley’s sister Macy, who’s Dalton’s client. (Private Dick Handbook, Rule #12 – Never get involved with a client. You know, that rule that gets broken every time.)
And from there it’s one noir fiction cliche after another, with snappy dialogue and crazy slang, double-crosses, mysterious motives, femmes fatale, and more intrigue than you can shake a reasonably large stick at. It was fantastic. I had a hard time remembering this was supposed to be a YA novel, actually; the references to old noir came fast and thick. (I was amused to discover that, although there is a glossary in the back, defining the slang and interpreting most of the references, there is no entry for Bogie. Not that Bogie needs interpretation, mind.)
Weirdly enough, the book this reminded me most of was Jo Walton’s Among Others. There’s the same sense that, although the narrator presents everything as fully real, there’s a possibility that the fantastic elements are actually a figment of the main character’s imagination, that what you’re reading is the complex narrative of a teenager attempting to cope. They’d be an interesting pair of books to read one after the other, I think.