A teenage beach bum turns private eye in this unexpectedly sweet story about friendship and loss from the author of Paranoid Park (2006).
Robert “Cali” Callahan ran away from his Nebraska foster home when he was 14. Now 17, he lives in a kind hippie’s backyard treehouse in Venice Beach, Calif., roams the boardwalk on his skateboard, plays basketball and tries to avoid trouble. When he is asked by a frustrated private investigator to locate another runaway, Cali discovers a natural talent for finding people. At first he’s thrilled to be earning money for nothing more than making a few innocent inquiries. But when Cali agrees to help find a wealthy missing girl named Reese Abernathy, he starts questioning the motivations of the people who are hiring him and finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game of cat and mouse. When Cali ultimately sides with his target instead of his client, the results are tragic and leave him wondering if he made the right decision. Nelson’s spare style and nuanced portrayal of street kids is strongly reminiscent of the classic work of S.E. Hinton. The gritty beach setting, compelling cast of sensitively drawn secondary characters and spot-on dialogue elevate the story beyond that of a typical genre mystery.
The ending hints at Cali’s willingness to take on fresh cases, and readers can only hope that a new teenage private detective series is in the works. (Mystery. 12-18)