Dooley Takes the Fall -- Norah McClintock
Seventeen-year-old Ryan Dooley has been trying to walk the straight-and-narrow. His uncle's strictness chafes, but Ryan's been going to school regularly, avoiding drugs and alcohol, and generally just trying to stay out of trouble. He was on his way home from work at the video store when he found the body.
"I thought I recognized him," Dooley said, which was true. "But his head was kind of smashed up, so I wasn't sure" which wasn't true, but it sounded a lot nicer than saying was he was actually thinking (It couldn't have happened to a more deserving person), which would only have annoyed his uncle. "Anyway, I didn't know that was his name and the cops didn't tell me," which was also true. He glanced at the picture in the newspaper and this time recognized the face right away--Mark Everley, his longish hair combed back, posed in front of one of those gray-blue screens that school photographers use, smiling at the camera, looking like your average high school student, which was a whole lot different from looking like a broken doll. The newspaper picture of Everley triggered another one in Dooley's mind, but this one wasn't from school. Dooley's dominant impression: Mark Everley was an asshole.
What with his past, it isn't long before Dooley becomes a prime suspect in what might be a murder investigation. And it isn't just the cops and his uncle who suspect him of having something to do with the death -- it's also Mark Everley's sister, a girl who Dooley's been curious about for ages.
Dooley Takes the Fall is fantastic. FANTASTIC. This isn't just a simple murder mystery. Dooley has that aspect of the story to deal with, but the reader has more: Dooley's past -- What He Did before coming to live with his uncle and his history with Mark Everley -- spools out slowly, and it, more than the actual mystery*, kept me entranced from the first page to the last. One of the real strengths of this book was the lack of expository dialogue -- I felt like Dooley and the other characters acted and spoke realistically throughout, never explaining things to each other just for the sake of explaining them to me. Norah McClintock has respect for the reader's intelligence, trusts the reader to be an active participant. I love that.
Dooley himself is a great character. He's a classic noir hero type -- troubled past, problems with addiction and unlucky in love -- which I always find appealing. And he's got great taste in movies:
Dooley said he liked some of the British stuff better. "You mean, Guy Ritchie and what's-his-name, the guy who did The Limey?" Mr. Fielding had said. No, Dooley said. Some of the quieter stuff, the stuff they showed on TV there but that you could rent here. He said he liked Robbie Coltrane, the character he played, he drank too much, he ate too much, but he always figured out the case without breaking a sweat, and you know what? They guy didn't even own a gun. Yeah, Dooley liked him a lot.
He's talking about Cracker! Cracker, if you haven't watched it, is outstanding -- if I hadn't already been hoping that all would go well for Dooley by that point, that passage would have won me over. Speaking of hoping things would go well -- until the very end of the book, I really didn't know which way things would go. There was no element of predictability -- yet another thing I loved about the book.
Highly, highly recommended to people who are disappointed by the lack of crime novels in the YA section, to people who liked the movie Brick, and to people who like their mystery novels to be more than simple mysteries with quick quips and chases scenes, but stories with depth and heart. Dooley Takes the Fall is a crime novel, yes, but it's also a story about trust and redemption. I loved it unreservedly.
I am so grateful to the person who nominated this title for the Cybils. Until now, Norah McClintock hadn't been on my radar. Now I'm planning on going back and reading her entire backlist while I wait for the second book in the Dooley trilogy to appear.
(cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire)
*That said, the mystery was strong, too.