Publisher: Walker Books
Johnny Middleton is hiding in the boys toilets to avoid double maths when a shower of dead stick insects hit the floor. The mystery takes a turn for the murderous when Johnny realises these are the school pets and this is just the first in a series of curious killings that shakes the school. Someone is out to frame Johnny and he has got just four days to find the culprit before he takes the fall and the whole school turns against him.
Working under the threat of the sadistic deputy head and his thugs, Johnny must negotiate the cliques and gangs of the schools’ grimy underworld to get to the bottom of this twisted mystery, but with his parents away, he’s falling behind on his meds. He needs to break the case before the case breaks him.
McGowan’s high school noir is fresh, fast and seriously good fun. Dialogue is super-snappy and our hero is a charismatic narrator with comebacks worthy of a cinematic sleuth. Villains are nasty, particularly the grotesque Lardies who dine on contraband exotic animals, and dames are as dangerous as they are alluring.
This could be unknown territory for readers not familiar with the detective noir genre but it’s an enticing introduction set in familiar structure of a high school hierarchy. Similar to, but perhaps more accessible than Rian Johnson’s 2005 high school noir film, Brick, this could open up a whole new world for YA readers hungry for some serious style. Good teen fiction always acknowledges the social challenges that high school brings, and McGowan does them no disservice here by reminding us that sometimes it’s a case of life or death!