A boarding school killing rekindles haunting memories for the so-called Kidnapped Kid as he sets out to clear his best friend’s name in this debut YA novel.
Luke Chase, a junior at St. Benedict’s (“in the heart of Connecticut”), is an “all-around good guy: clean-cut, a great student and athlete.” Oscar Weymouth, his roommate, is an authority-flouting rebel. One fateful night, the two defy campus rules and sneak out into the woods for an illicit rendezvous with two girls, Kelsey and Pippa, a British transfer student on whom Luke has a crush. The thrill of “living on the edge” takes a deadly turn when the dean’s second wife, Joanna, is murdered near their meeting spot. When Oscar is implicated in the crime, Luke must shake off his own growing suspicions about his best friend and find the real killer. Suspects range from the creepy Mr. Tadeckis, who runs the school’s Outdoor Survival Program, to the community’s legendary boogeyman, the Southborough Strangler. Luke wants to solve the case to give the school something else to talk about besides his own legendary status as the Kidnapped Kid, “the bravest boy in America,” who three years prior escaped his abductors and survived for days in the wilderness thanks to skills taught to him by his grandfather. It was never determined why Luke was targeted. Adding to his unease is that one of his kidnappers was never apprehended. Vance (a pseudonym) has created an affable hero in Luke, whose modestly carries the burden of his unwanted fame. The author deftly sets the stage for future investigative adventures and leaves enough loose threads in Luke’s backstory to further explore that enigma. While the writing could be sharper (“Things had gone beyond a fear of getting in trouble; now their safety might be in jeopardy”), a climactic chase through a maze is an effective set piece. There is little blood, only the mildest profanity, and no sexual situations. But some of the pop- culture references geared toward the intended YA readers seem either forced (Game of Thrones) or past their shelf life (Napoleon Dynamite). This might not make the grade for more hard-boiled genre fans.
A murder mystery with a likable hero.