Saturday, October 06, 2012

Book Review: The Quick Fix by Jack Ferraiolo

Book: The Quick Fix
Author: Jack Ferraiolo
Published: October 1, 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher via NetGalley

After the last time, you'd think middle-school private detective Matt Stevens would know better than to do any jobs for juvenile crimelord Vinny Biggs again. And he's not, really. Sure, he's looking into the case of a missing "decorative piece of wood," but only because beautiful cheerleader Melissa Scott asked him first. And the Thompson twins, infamous purveyors of addictive Pixy Stix, are after it too. Vinny was merely the last in a long line.

But as usual with Matt's cases, things go south in a hurry. Melissa is publicly humiliated and sent to the Outs, a social Dante's Inferno. Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. She's unexpectedly followed by the chief hall monitor, and then Matt knows somebody's deadly serious. Combined with blackmail, Pixy Stix, a lot of money, and more questions than one seventh-grader can reasonably answer, it seems like business as usual for Matt.

Then he discovers the "piece of wood" is really a box, and what it contains could mean nothing to anyone but himself. Right?

I reviewed the first Matt Stevens book last year, The Big Splash, and enjoyed it enough to request this book when it popped up on NetGalley. The middle-school experience painted with a wash of tweaked noir conventions wouldn't have been enough for a second go-round, but I really liked Matt and I was curious about the larger mysteries that had been set up.

In general, I enjoyed myself again. Matt is as snarky, thoughtful, and clever as he was the first time. The series-level mystery of his dad's disappearance advances apace. The book-level mystery was somewhat thinner this time, often lost in all the winks at mystery types. And that brings me to the main reason I'm writing this review, which is to work out my own ambivalence toward the hyper reality of this setting.

In my first review, I mentioned: "The Big Splash can't really decide whether it wants to be funny or serious about its own tone." Is it meant to be totally tongue-in-cheek? Perfectly serious? A tongue-in-cheek lens for the always-gruesome middle-school experience? I honestly couldn't say, and I still can't.

The same thing came up for me again, particularly in the substitution of Pixy Stix as an addictive substance. I think it's because I work on a daily basis with kids whose lives are affected by the real thing that this analogue doesn't quite sit right. Imagining their reactions to the notions of mere sugar being as destructive a force as what they see in their neighborhoods and homes rattled my willing suspension of disbelief, and this is a book that really requires a lot of that.

So . . . what's the verdict here? I'm still not sure. Was it well-written? Yes. Matt is a fully fleshed character, as are most of his compatriots, though it often seemed to me that characters' reactions are much more adult in nature than a typical middle-schooler's. Will kids like it and relate to it? I really don't know. I think they'll like Matt, and read on for the mystery and the relationships. But as to how realistic the details of the setting will feel to kids not familiar with the conventions of adult mystery novels and noir storytelling, I have my doubts. If you've read it and think otherwise, please share.

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