Compton (The Blue Condition, 2016, etc.) delivers a schoolyard YA mystery that plays truant in the grit and glitter of Tinseltown.
Los Angeles high school junior Chance Harper is a loner. Two years ago, he caught his father and his girlfriend’s mother cheating on their respective spouses with each other. Now Chance is in a bad place, drinking whiskey and cola to get himself through the day. He’s lost a lot, and perhaps that’s why he can’t help himself when his now-ex-girlfriend, Jasmine Fairchild, comes to him for a favor. Her sister, Madison, is being blackmailed over some explicit photos. Jasmine is willing to pay the blackmailer, but she wants Chance to make the exchange. Even without the sisters’ respective beefy boyfriends warning him off, he knows that he should just walk away. But he’s never been able to say no to Jasmine, and he feels protective of Madison. Before he knows it, he’s embroiled in a hard-boiled mystery involving extortion, drugs, femmes fatales, Hollywood money, and murder. Compton portrays narrator Chance as a jaded, worldly-wise teen who’s read at least one Elmore Leonard novel. The juxtaposition of 11th-grader and down-and-out PI is somewhat disquieting; indeed, all the characters seem to live preternaturally adult lives, in which drinking, drugs, and sexual dalliances are all part of the everyday abandon. Still, the way that Chance pieces together the vice-ridden jigsaw puzzle is definitely appealing. The disposition of the dramatis personae is appropriately murky, the mystery heats up as the story goes on, and Chance, from the moment that Jasmine comes back into his life, slips easily into the role and speech patterns of a noir detective: “ ‘Either say your peace [sic] and beat it or pull the trigger and end the suspense,’ I said as I took another swig of my Jack and Coke.” Seasoned crime-fiction aficionados may be underwhelmed, but others will enjoy Chance’s hard-nosed self-possession.
A taster for teen readers seeking a tête-à-tête with the adult world of crime fiction.