Allen has a gift for characterizations, and best of all is Downs, who narrates the story in a sardonic first person, admits to clumsiness and knows when he’s outmatched. He's generally pessimistic, but he shows he's not as hard-bitten as he pretends: "People and their feelings were messy. That is why I avoided both religiously." Allen also does a wonderful job with the semi-adult Frankie. Downs sees this right away, and their relationship—prickly at first—comes across as warm and real. Even minor characters come to life in vibrant detail, such as Mamacita, for whom hot peppers solve all problems. The noirish, sometimes playful Raymond Chandler patter is often polished and memorable, though at times it comes on thick, and the plot gets convoluted, but the engaging cast and steady surprises nimbly carry the story.
Allen gets full marks for showing the part of Los Angeles that isn't Hollywood, where the gangs rule. We see Frankie's dilapidated neighborhood, whose downtrodden residents make attempts to beautify it: one owner was "either colorblind or spent way too much time and money at the local weed shop." In the end, Downs navigates through the neighborhood and its denizens to an ending that is both shocking and satisfying, leaving readers to hope for a sequel.
Takeaway: A down-on-his-luck PI finds that a scrappy teen may be his ticket to redemption.
Great for fans of: Robert B. Parker’s Night Passage, Benjamin Black’s The Silver Swan.
Design and typography: B+
Marketing copy: B+