This book had been on my to-read pile a while, and boy, was I dumb for letting it collect dust: Rat Life by Tedd Arnold. It won an Edgar (the Oscars in mystery), so naturally, I was interested.
The book is set in the seventies, in a NY town along the (fictional ) Chemenga river, where a dead body washes up. Not that Todd is too concerned about that at first. He's too busy making up stories to make his best friend Leaky laugh, and helping his parents run their motel and take care of his grandma.
But then something happens to a puppy, and Todd meets Rat, a Vietnam vet not much older than him. The two become unlikely friends while working at a local drive-in. Todd quickly gets tangled up in Rat's complicated life, making him wonder about that dead body, and how Rat might be connected to it.
I loved this book. It had a good mystery in it, but Tedd Arnold didn't sacrifice character, setting or depth for it--a really hard thing to pull of, I know. The Mystery Writers of America people got it right: Rat Life really is a winner. Go read it!