Tuesday, April 20

The Adventures of Jack Lime

by James Leck
Kids Can Press  2010

A trio of hardboiled detective stories for the upper middle grade set.

Jack Lime is a kid people go to when they need to have problems solved.  Problems like cheating boyfriends and missing bikes and gambling rings and kidnapped... hamsters.

As with all detective stories, Lime has to wade his way through the sort of half-truths and double-crosses he's presented with, trying to reconcile what peopletell him with what he has to piece together through observation.  And as with all who meddle in the affairs of others there is a price, usually a punch to the face or the breadbasket.  Getting around the issue of doing a job for hire, Lime does what he does for the favors he can collect and use as barter down the road.  He's a lone wolf (orphaned, living with his grandmother), worldly (from big city LA to small town Iona),  who can usually solve the case but rarely gets the rewards he deserves.

Written in the first-person tough-guy voice of classic hardboiled fiction, Jack Lime is the closest I've seen to anyone grafting Raymond Chandler's Marlowe into children's literature.  Not that other's haven't tried, but those others all suffered from the strain of their own efforts to appear clever and arch.  Leck has managed to find just the right tone and though it is still an affectation of style it comes off as effortless and natural. 

And it's appropriately short.  I would have been happy for any one of these cases to be a book unto themselves, but that Leck gets three satisfying stories into 126 pages makes its case against those books that drag out a single drama for upwards of 275 pages.  Present the case, get on the job, land in some trouble, wiggle out of trouble and solve the case.  No need to get clever and drag things out endlessly.  The "crimes" are within the realm of possibility, if slightly exaggerated to match the genre, solved without the use of unbelievable talents, and doesn't pit whiz kids against idiot adults.  I think this is my new standard for what can and should be done with detective stories aimed at the older middle grade reader.
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