Friday, September 4, 2009

The Morgue and Me -- John C. Ford

The Morgue and Me begins:

When you're eighteen years old and you shoot somebody in a public place at two in the morning, of course you expect some attention. Especially when it's the person I shot, and especially when you're found right there on the scene with that person at your feet, gasping away in a pool of blood that seeps around your shoes. Still, I find it really embarrassing.

The summer before his freshman year of college, photography enthusiast and aspiring spy Christopher Newell gets a summer job at the morgue. He was supposed to work at the NWMU astronomy department, but that fell through when... well, it's a long story.

Anyway, the morgue. While snooping (there's really no other word for it) in the coroner's office, he finds $15,000 in cash. Which is weird. But then when he realizes that the coroner falsified his most recent report... well, Christopher Newell is pretty good at math.

He teams up with Tina, a Trans Am driving, fishnet wearing, drinking, smoking, big mouthed (and extremely attractive) young journalist -- he wants to solve the mystery, she wants a big break -- and before the two of them know it, they're up to their ears in an investigation that seems to involve every single powerful person in their Michigan town.

And powerful people do not usually take kindly to being investigated: especially when that investigation is conducted by a couple of nobodies and involves corruption, blackmail and murder.

Christopher's narration definitely brings to mind a hard-boiled detective -- not because he is one (or acts like one), mind you, but because he wants to be one -- and it especially comes out in some of his descriptions of people:

I've heard that lots of movie stars have huge heads. I don't know about his acting skills, but Corbett was qualified in the head department. His giant helmet of black hair was gelled so thick I could almost see a reflection of the clouds in it. On his feet he wore tiny black loafers, equally shiny. In between, there was lots of tailored clothing.

His relationship with Tina is especially well done. He has to remind himself to stop drooling every time he looks at her even though he knows it is SO not going to happen -- and that attraction persists throughout the book, even as their working relationship develops into a genuine friendship. And, very importantly, they're rather hilarious:

"See?" Tina said. "You lurk a little, you get your answers."

"I'm not sure it was the lurking. I think it was more the asking."

"Whatever. We're lurking till I finish this drink."

And while Tina easily could have become a two-dimensional stock character (because it isn't like we haven't met the brash and brassy type many, many times before), she didn't. As the book progressed, as she and Christopher got to know each other, she became more and more real. By the end of the book, I felt like she was as much a main character as he was.

Big thumbs up here -- it's a strong mystery (minus one plot point that felt really, really wrong) that feels both classic and contemporary. It was suspenseful and twisty and funny with strong secondary characters and just good all around. I know I always say it when I find one, but here I go again: I'm so glad that we're starting to see more noir-ish crime novels written for and marketed to the teen audience. __________________________________________________________________

Book source: My local library.

Cross-posted at Bookshelves of Doom.

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