by Norah McClintock
Red Deer Press
Reviewed by Jodie
"A boy maybe twelve years old, on a bike, stopped next to Dooley, looked at the kid sprawled on the pavement and said, Is he dead?
Yeah, I think so, Dooley said. In fact, he was sure of it because there was no air going into or coming out of the lungs of the kid on the pavement. Also, the kid's open eyes were staring at nothing, and his head was twisted, as if he had turned to look at something just before he made contact with the hard surface of the path."
The opening sentence of ‘Dooley Takes the Fall’ is special. It aims to grab the reader's attention with the image of finding a dead body, but softens the impact of the event with the casual curiosity of the boy on the bike and the matter of fact tone of Dooley, the main character. The author, Norah McClintock, introduces readers to the darker side of young adult fiction, without letting shock tactics and graphic descriptions dominate other aspects of the book, like characterization. She creates a crime novel full of action and momentum to keep readers excited, but avoids a pushy pace that obscures the importance of her character’s feelings. Readers will enjoy the main characters, as much as trying to work out the solution to the crime.
Dooley is a teenager recently out of juvenile detention. He exists under the weight of a state of permanent penance, as he lives with his uncle who is an ex-cop. Dooley goes to school, works a small town job in a video store and knows to jump whenever his uncle pages him. While taking an unsanctioned detour on his way home from a shift, Dooley becomes the only witness to what at first looks like a suicide jump. Only soon the cops and the dead boy’s sister are thinking it wasn’t suicide. Hey doesn’t Dooley have a criminal record and wasn’t he seen fighting with the deceased recently? Suddenly Dooley needs to find out who really killed the guy before the police convince themselves that he did.
Dooley is a fantastic character. He approaches situations with a calm, thoughtful approach as he tries to work through life after detention in his own way. While an ex-con may seem a hard character for many readers to relate to his need to keep his head down and stay out of trouble will resonate with many ordinary people. Of course he sometimes gives into temptation, as he struggles to carve an identity without rage or addiction but these flaws again make him a realistic character readers will identify with. He’s smart, with well thought out opinions and a genuine voice. The down to earth tone of his thoughts keeps the narrative grounded and provides a methodical line for readers to follow to help them solve the crime.
There are a few rough spots in the book. The explanation of how all the plot elements came together to cause murder was a little confusing. Some of the long term secondary characters were background shadows, or had little character development, something which the author may intend to remedy in the second book of the trilogy. The author definitely needs to cut back on the references to Dooley’s love interest’s ‘coffee coloured eyes’ if she’s still around in the next book. But with a plot full of red herrings and drama, as well as such a strong main character Norah McClintock has created an entertaining novel that will keep readers turning the page for ‘just one more chapter’ long into the night.