Thursday, February 24, 2011

I've Mentioned How Much I Like Noir, Haven't I?

Griff Carver, Highway Patrol by Jim Krieg is not the first book to bring a hard-boiled noir hero into a middle school. (See The Big Splash, which was published in 2008.) But it's an excellent offering in what might be called a child noir genre.

Griff Carver isn't a private eye, like Matt Stevens in The Big Splash and some of the classic mid-twentieth century adult noir books. Instead, he's a hallway patrol officer, what you might call a noir cop. He was a hallway patrol officer at his old school, where he did something, we're not sure what, that has made him legendary but also meant he needed to change schools. His mother (known quaintly as "the Old Lady") believes he's going to stay away from the law in his new stomping ground, but he can't give up another chance to wear the badge and joins the patrol on his very first day.

In the middle school world Griff inhabits, we find a head cop, a tough female reporter, and a crooked politician. There's also what sounds like a Chucky Cheese takeoff where a grieving lawman can drown his sorrows in way too many caffeinated soft drinks.

And, finally, there is Tommy, who I guess is the by-the-book officer every tough cop dreads being paired up with. Tommy is terrific.

Griff Carver is told through different points of view, by way of incident reports from Tommy to the head of the hallway patrol, the reporter's reluctantly maintained journal, and the transcripts of Griff's meetings with a guidance counselor. These devices work far better than many point-of-view switches do.

The library where I found this book and Amazon both classify it as YA. I'm not sure what that's about. Perhaps the noir style is considered too sophisticated for middle grade readers? The dark underside of the school is too scary?

Plot Project:The plot here is a traditional noir plot retrofitted for a kids' book. And that's good.

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