The death of a small-town minister’s wife leads a teenage photojournalist on a fateful search for truth in Uhlig’s (Last Dance at the Frosty Queen, 2008, etc.) new YA novel based on a real-life murder case.
Ron “Kodak” Riley Jr., a brash, 17-year-old writer, photographer and triathlon hopeful, works for his dad’s weekly newspaper in a small town circa 1990. Frustrated by the town’s white-bread insularity and by his dad’s lack of ambition, he jumps at the chance to take pictures when word comes that a car has driven off a local bridge into the river, killing the wife of well-liked local minister Rev. Mike. Kodak soon finds that certain discrepancies in the circumstances of the crash indicate foul play, despite the skepticism of those around him. The blasé sheriff’s enigmatic, chain-smoking foster daughter, Casey, has her own suspect in mind, but Kodak isn’t convinced until he’s confronted with undeniable proof. The realization goes deep: “I listen to some locusts making their shrill night music outside my window…. Familiar sounds, yet my world has totally changed. I know it will never go back to the way it was.” In an acerbic, fine-tuned first-person narrative, Uhlig clues readers in to the identity of the guilty party early on but keeps the dynamic taut with a shocking but sensitively handled plot twist. The ending takes a hairpin turn that is somewhat unoriginal but nonetheless moving and unexpected. Although Kodak’s facile scatological and sexual vulgarities are predictable adolescent signposts, Uhlig raises the emotional stakes with well-paced glimpses into Kodak’s vulnerability and growing self-awareness: “I stretch out on the grass, staring up at the stars and the moon….Probably some other kid on some other planet is lying on his back right now, staring at me, trying to figure out why he does the things he does.”
A fast-moving YA mystery novel.