Jack D. Ferraiolo
Now you don't have to wait until you're older to appreciate the dark, hip, wiseguy first person detective style of Dashiell Hammett in The Maltese Falcon and Raymond Chandler in The Big Sleep. Move over Bogart, now there's Matt Stevens on the job, a worthy successor to Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. Sure, sure, you can find double-crossers and mean streets in every city, but have you been in a middle school lately? Matt, a hard-boiled private detective and student at Franklin Middle School, is summoned to the lunchroom table of Vinnie Biggs, a Sydney Greenstreet-like seventh grader who's taken over all illegal activities at school—trafficking stolen exams and candy, forging doctor's notes and hall passes, and gambling on school sports teams. Against his better judgment, Matt accepts an assignment from Vinnie, to get back a good luck charm from Nicole Finnegan, AKA Nicky Fingers, a gorgeous redhead and once the fastest hit kid in school. Nicky's weapon of choice? Squirt gun. If you got "popped" with Nikki's water gun down the front of your pants, you could count on hearing a humiliating chant of "PEE-PEE PANTS, PEE-PEE PANTS." Right away, you became an Out. "Once you were in the Outs, you were there for good . . . The ridicule was brutal and inescapable." This year, Nikki's gone straight, and when she herself gets popped, Joey "the Hyena" Renoni is fingered as the source. Joey swears he didn't do it. Who did? That's what Matt's got to figure out and it's no open and shut case.
What do you call this genre? I say "kid noir." You'll love all of the picturesque similes: "I was jittery, like a little kid with a three-candy-bar-a-day habit." and " . . . he was harder to find than a hot dog in a health food store." You might find the language a bit over-the-top for this age level—with way too many "hells" and "damns" scattered through, but it does fit the mood. Kids can make charts of the suspects, evidence, and possible motives, because this is not the easiest mystery to solve, which is what makes it so doggone fun, and compare their school social hierarchy with the way things are done at Franklin.
Reviewed by : JF.
Themes : HUMOR. MIDDLE SCHOOLS. MYSTERY AND DETECTIVE STORIES.
CRITICS HAVE SAID
- His first-person present-tense narration carries in it echoes of Marlowe, and the simple plot makes some crafty twists and turns as it goes along.
IF YOU LOVE THIS BOOK, THEN TRY:
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George, Kristine O’Connell. Swimming Upstream: Middle School Poems. Clarion, 2002.
Getz, David. Almost Famous. Henry Holt, 1992.
Gorman, Carol. Dork on the Run. HarperCollins, 2002.
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Korman, Gordon. No More Dead Dogs. Hyperion, 2000.
Korman, Gordon. Schooled. Hyperion, 2007.
Korman, Gordon. This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall. Scholastic, 1978.
Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. The Boys Start the War. Delacorte, 1993.
Paulsen, Gary. Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day. Random House, 2004.
Spinelli, Jerry. Loser. HarperCollins, 2002.
Tarshis, Lauren. Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree. Dial, 2007.