If James Ellroy decided to try his hand at writing YA, this inventive novel might well be the result. Jake and his sister, Darlene, are new to L.A. They discover a skeleton key that acts as a sort of time machine and introduces them to the ghost of Archer Wolfe (mystery aficionados will understand the significance of these names), a 1930s private detective who was framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Wolfe now wants the two kids to find out who framed him and why. There is a ticking clock element as Wolfe needs to have his name cleared before his corpse can be laid to rest. From its title to its period slang and references, this novel is a literary feast for fans of hardboiled fiction. The time travel element is imaginatively utilized, the mystery is a clever homage to Hammett and Chandler, and the author has fun with the very contemporary Jake and Darlene trying to pass themselves off as '30s private dicks to a motley crew of mobsters and molls. Those who know L.A. will appreciate the shout-outs to Coles, the Fred Harvey House at Union Station, the Aztec Hotel on Route 66, and other local landmarks. Although the references might make this book more appealing to adults than teens, in the end, this is one of the best mixes of gangsters and kids since Jodie Foster said, “Smear my lipstick” in Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone.
The Big Exoneration
Dennis Sanchez, author
In a spoof of noir private detective mysteries a middle school boy and his younger sister travel in time between the present and 1939 Los Angeles while investigating a seventy-five year old crime that sent an innocent man to the gas chamber. Their challenge is coercing information from shady characters, uncovering the real murderer, and getting his written confession, then finding someone in present time who can validate it, all before access to the world of 1939 is lost to them. While exploring the floors of a building built in 1917 Los Angeles, where they are temporarily staying in their uncle's loft, a boy, twelve, and his sister, ten find a skeleton key to the door that adults see only as an empty storage room. However, what the children find upon entering is a furnished private detective agency with vintage telephones that actually communicate with those living in 1939 Los Angeles. In an inner room, a man speaks to them from within a black and white photograph hanging on the wall. Once a private detective who occupied these offices, he has remained an animated black and white image of himself since his execution in 1939. Framed for a murder, he has waited over seventy-five years for someone to help exonerate him of the crime. There is little time left to do so since he will soon vanish from the photograph. The children take up the task and, dressing in the style of adult private investigators of the 1930s, they roam the seedy underworld of long ago Los Angeles noir uncovering evidence that will lead to the real murderer. However, the children discover they have little time to accomplish their tasks for their present days are synched with the passing days of 1939. Each day that elapses in present day is a day lost in 1939 and this become critical when the children learn from newspapers of that time that the Detective’s body is in transport from the state prison to England, first by train and then by boat. There, his wife will entomb him in her family plot. The moment the Detective is in his grave, he will be literally out the picture and his world of 1939 will no longer exist. This gives the children only two weeks to fulfill the Detective’s seven decades old wish of exoneration by revealing the true murderer and returning to present day with a written confession.
ABNA Publishers Weekly Reviewer