Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Big Splash

After my little snafu while reading Torn to Pieces (where I figured out the plot by page two), I continued with Jack D. Ferraiolo’s The Big Splash, also nominated for an Edgar this year. Not the winner, but I’ve found some real page turners among the nominees.

As was this one. From the cover, which had a slight Japanamation feel to it, I assumed that maybe this was a graphic novel. But no. I think it was a not-so-obvious throw-back to the old pulp covers—right up my alley. I love the pulps. Wrote a few shorts reminiscent of the genre myself, like this short for The Thrilling Detective, a most fine ezine with lots of pulpy PI stories.

But enough spam-o-rama of yours truly. The Big Splash is, in short, a middle-grade PI pulp. So I was really digging this book as I began reading, with a grin of recognition on my face as main character Matt Stevens takes on the case of this book:

Who water-gunned Nikki Fingers, the school’s meanest hit-girl?

The scenes follow some of the stereotypical pulp characters, like big boss Vinny, right-hand man Kevin, and of course our loner PI Matt. Add some key scenes, like the ‘killing’ of Nikki Fingers, the simultaneous hiring of our PI by both big boss Vinny and Nikki’s pretty sister, and the hall monitors’ (cops) ambiguous involvement. Like I said, pulpy.

Beyond the pulp PI format, the story continued with the mystery, some good plot twists, and solid writing. The Big Splash was a decent and unusual read.

Here are my issues with the book though (you knew I was going to have something to bring up, right?):

1. However cool I thought this format was, will a middle-grader get it? I mean, we’re talking old-school pulp here—I know it’s making a bit of a comeback, but I doubt it’s enough for a 10 year-old to appreciate.

2. The case our PI Matt is investigating is the shooting in the crotch with a squirt gun. With water. Now, I know peer pressure is a real pain, but this was the best crime you could come up with? I mean, it’s a squirt gun with water.

In my opinion, this book is one of those that’s more pleasing for adults than for kids. Sure, the pulp PI nod is clever, but do you really think a middle-grader will dig that? And the squirting the water in the crotch thing… Not only are you missing the point of pulp, which has a distinct, gritty noir thing going on, you’re trivializing what it means to be a teen. It’s not all about who’s in and who’s out.

Basically, I would have loved for this book to have a real crime, like the kind that middlegraders see in real life. Because they do, you know. Waterguns are insulting—plus imagine how great this book could have been with the depth of some reality. It’s a bummer the author decided not to go there, because this book was a pretty good read. But it could have been a really great one.

In short: The Big Splash was a little too clever for its own good. But an interesting read all the same.

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