An uncompromising 12-year-old gumshoe takes on the case of his short life.
The hero of this debut novel is a boy detective, “Huge,” who has as much in common with Encyclopedia Brown or the Hardy Boys as Al Swearengen has with The Lone Ranger. A foul-mouthed, scrappy sixth grader with a skyrocketing IQ, Eugene Smalls might be a runt in the eyes of his peers but, in his mind, he’s bigger than life—hence the name—and determined to live up to the example set by Raymond Chandler’s famous description of what a detective must be in The Simple Art of Murder (“down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid”). “Sure, I realized I didn’t exactly fit the bill, because most around here would tell you that I was meaner than a short-order cook and more tarnished than all the girls in Catholic school,” says Huge. “So I had two strikes against me from the jump. But I had one thing in my favor: I wasn’t afraid of a goddamn thing.” Armed with a hero who assumes the most eye-catching characteristics of Holden Caulfield, Phillip Marlowe and Nick Twisp, Fuerst crafts a readable alternative noir set in the early 1980s. Huge takes on the only case he can land, solving the mystery of who tagged his grandmother’s nursing home for the princely sum of $10. To his credit, Fuerst pulls off the same trick as the 2005 film Brick in making his protagonist’s suburban surroundings and mundane foes seem as hard-boiled and corrupt as those in the Chandler novels Huge treasures. With period detail intact—Huge’s sources hang out in the arcade, while the private eye rides a bike with a banana seat—Fuerst still manages to integrate into the mix seedy bureaucrats, treacherous friends and even a couple femme fatales. Bonus points for capturing the pathos of adolescence without talking down to the audience.
There are few challenges greater than voicing a smart, tough kid. Fans of teen fiction or hard-boiled detectives will find this one credible and engaging.