17 year-old private eye Dalton Rev transfers to the cesspool known as Salt River High in order to solve the mystery of “The Body.” Beyond that, I really don’t know how to succinctly summarize the plot of You Killed Wesley Payne (Little Brown 2011) by Sean Beaudoin. Told in the style of hardboiled noir but set in the rough and tumble world of high school, I guess you could say that it’s The Maltese Falcon meets Mean Girls. There’s a hardened private eye (Dalton), a femme fetale, corrupt cops, school officials on the take, and rival gangs (aka cliques) battling it out for control of Salt River High. There are plot twists upon plot twists and nobody is who they seem. Dun dun DUN!
I’m a big fan of both noir and YA (obviously) and I loooooved Veronica Mars so I was anxious to read this one. And while I definitely enjoyed the book, I think I admired the execution of the concept more than I really loved the story. The way Beaudoin employs the classic noir tropes in a high school setting is clever, but it also kept me from fully immersing myself in the story. And the dialogue is so stylized and removed from our reality, that I found myself unable to relate to the characters and therefore I didn’t really care what happened to them. That won’t bother some readers, but I find it necessary to really loving a book.
On the plus side, it’s an amusing tale and there’s a very funny glossary in the back matter that explains all of the slang and pop culture references used in the story. Y’all, I had never realized what a fan of the funny glossary I am until I read this book. I don’t know what that says about me. Anyway, there’s also a clique chart that maps out the social hierarchy of Salt River High (The Balls are above the Scam Wows, in case you were wondering) and a sample chapter of Dalton’s favorite pulp detective series. I love it when a book offers special features.
I’d recommend reading You Killed Wesley Payne just because it’s nice to read a YA that’s NOT a paranormal romance or a dystopian love triangle. It’s also clever and funny, even if I ultimately found it emotionally unsatisfying. And maybe it’ll inspire teens to pick up some Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler. I’m all for that.
*This is the title of Chapter 19 of the book. I’m not clever enough to come up with that on my own.