Morp and Murder
Jake Brown is your average, above-average kid. He generally has his mind on the usual things high school seniors think about: girls, avoiding Spanish class, girls, pizza, surfing, girls, and of course, girls. None of that changes when he and his best friend, Dean, go surfing and find a body with a hole in its head floating beyond the waves. Suddenly, Jake’s life is about to change, some of it in a good way, some of it, not so much.
Shortly after “the big discovery,” Sydney, a cross country teammate of Jake’s, asks him to go to Morp—Prom spelled backwards—a Sadie Hawkins-style dance where the girls ask out the boys. As if life isn’t exciting enough trying to solve a murder, it looks like Jake is about to have his fondest wish granted—a real, live girlfriend. Despite Sydney’s obvious attraction to him, it takes a little work to convince Jake the attraction is real. Luckily, Sydney is very convincing.
In the beginning, Jake and Dean try keeping Lily and Sydney out of harm’s way. Their concern for their girlfriends doesn’t last long. Eventually, the four of them become entangled in clues—and making sure dire threats from their prime suspect don’t pan out. Jake might not say he’s gotten himself into a life-threating situation but not wanting to say it doesn’t make it any less true.
“Death at Carp High” has as many peaks and troughs as a winter swell at Rincon, and it’s all Jake and Dean can do to avoid wiping out.
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4.5 stars "Like modern day Hardy Boys." When I saw that phrase in Death at Carp High, it occurred to me that the Hardy Boys have not fared nearly as well in today’s book world as Nancy Drew. Both series are in current publication and both were popular back in the first decade of this century when my bookstore was open but, somehow, it’s Nancy Drew that gets talked about all the time, especially among mystery authors and readers. This is pure speculation but my guess is that today’s mystery aficionados expect cozies to have female protagonists and certainly that’s generally the case. There are some male cozy sleuths, of course, but not nearly as many as female. Death at Carp High introduces a pair of high school seniors who love to surf and are fairly well obsessed with girls even if their fantasies are pretty much purely in their dreams. Dean’s a step ahead of Jake but both of them are stud magnets only in their imaginations and have some pretty silly ideas about girls. Do today’s boys really talk to each other this way about girls? I don’t know but then I’m not a guy and the author is so I’ll bow to his personal knowledge ;-) After finding the body, Jake and Dean fall into investigating more or less because they shouldn’t and because they’re sure the cops won’t figure out some things as well as they can. At the same time, they’re cautious when they should be and only occasionally get carried away with themselves. I really liked the friendship and interaction among Jake, Sydney, Dean and Lily. These are likeable kids and, if I have any quibble with characterization, it’s that there doesn’t seem to be much friction between any of these four and their schoolmates. That seems a little sugarcoated but, again, this is a cozy so it fits; the same can be said about the absence of any foul language—unrealistic, I know, but I appreciated not having to cringe. The ending was unexpected and, because of that, lends the whole story a kind of credibility it was lacking earlier. I was surprised (in a good way) and that’s always a good thing in a mystery. Jeremy Gold has come up with a fun contemporary take on the Hardy Boys, coziness and all, and I think this will appeal to young adult and adult readers alike. Sure, there are hiccups, but I could not help liking this first in the series. I could really have done without the numerous vocabulary lessons but that was the only thing that detracted from the story and I’m looking forward to more adventures with Jake and his pals.