The Big Splash by Jack D. Ferraiolo
(from the book jacket)
Matt Stevens is as tough as a steak from the school cafeteria. He’s a seventh-grade private eye, and he just did something he said he’d never do: He accepted a job from Vincent “Vinny Biggs” Biggio, the kid behind every deal made at Franklin Middle School, from black market candy to forged hall passes.
You see, life at the Frank is tough. Get on the wrong side of Vinny Biggs and you’ll find yourself in the Outs, the least popular “club” in school. How do you get there? Water (or any other liquid) strategically splattered below your belt for maximum humiliation.
When Nicole Finnegan, a.k.a. Nikki Fingers, the most feared squirt-gun assassin at the Frank, is put in the Outs, Matt feels partially to blame and is determined to find the trigger kid. Problem is, Nikki has more enemies than a snitch during a final exam. Every kid in school is suspect, including Kevin Carling, Matt’s former best friend and current right-hand man to Vinny Biggs. Matt had better watch his back, and especially his front, as he tackles a case with more twists than a candy addict on a swivel chair.
The Big Splash has a wonderful noir feel. It has all the pieces; the hard detective, the damsel in distress, the harried newspaper man, the scared sources, the neighborhood bar, the crime boss, the thugs. All of it. It has the fun narration by the detective complete with colorful similes like ‘a bully without intimidation was like a new car without a motor: It may look impressive, but it wasn’t going anywhere,’ and ‘they rolled around my brain like billiard balls on a table with no pockets; nothing was sinking in.’ The story is peopled with interesting people. Most of the transitions from noir to middle school work well; the sugar habits instead of drug ones, the assassins with water instead of bullets. It has a fun lighthearted feel a lot of the time but it also has a hard edge as you see the kids pounce on someone when they are down and the consequences that humiliation has on their lives. It’s an interestingly convoluted mystery with lots of clues and suspects and twists right up until the final denouement. But it isn’t just about the mystery. It also manages to work in the problems of growing up with friendship and romance and trying to fit in. The only problem is that sometimes it pushes a little too hard and it goes a bit too far and they don’t sound like kids anymore. But that can easily be forgiven because you get wrapped up in the feeling of the book.