Every now and then I pick up a book and don't want to put it down until I've finished reading it. This is not always a sign of great literature. Sometimes it's just a compelling and fun story. A couple weeks ago I received "You Killed Wesley Payne" from a publicist. Having read "Fade to Blue," I was familiar with Sean Beaudoin's work and was a little hesitant to read this new book. It's not that I didn't like "Fade to Blue," I did. But I felt I was too out of touch with it's target reader to fully understand or appreciate Beaudoin's twisted, dark dramedy of teen life. I wondered if "You Killed Wesley Payne" would be any different?
"You Killed Wesley Payne" follows Dalton Rev, a high school senior that fancies himself a private dick. He patterns his life and career after Lexington Cole, his favorite pulp fiction detective. The mystery begins with a death, some murky details and several unanswered questions. It is quickly followed up with beautiful dames, ditsy chicks, brutal jocks and crazy rockers. Each stereotype is taken to an extreme and molded into a clique. Each clique has it's piece of Salt River High. Every teacher is on the take and everyone is on edge.
Dalton, is the epitome of a classic noir detective. He doesn't really solve the crime so much as survive the investigation. He is a straight-edge guy that lives by a clean code of conduct. Dalton's character is the balance to all the unbalanced players in the world. He rides into the story on his scooter and quickly brings the story around to money. A good crime novel is always about money -- money and women.
Don't get caught up in the fact that this story is set in a school. In this case it is just a setting that neatly forces all the suspects to interact. It is familiar yet still manages to keep the reader off balance and the opening clique chart will give you a laugh as it deftly pulls you into the narrative. "You Killed Wesley Payne" plays the noir shtick to the hilt and does the genre proud. Each line is delivered with cool reverence and nonchalant absurdity. Each page is filled with laughter and revulsion. Each answer is twisted and every cross is doubled. I only wish the glossary was found at the beginning of the book rather than tucked away at the end. The pronunciations and definitions of words and phrases helps develop the scenes and characters. Besides the glossary is a riot unto itself.
Beaudoin mixes social commentary into the story arc but it tends to get lost in the entertainment and off kilter brew of original characters and hard-boiled action. The sub-plots surrounding Dalton's father, his sociopathic little brother and the potential for a Harvard scholarship only serve to slow the pacing and never really materialize as more than passing distractions. The violence and language may be a concern for some younger teens, but older teens should be able to handle it.
"You Killed Wesley Payne" is not going to go down in history as great literature. But it is one entertaining, and darkly funny mystery that grabs you from the first page and doesn't let go until it has punched you in the back of the head with the last word.