Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gentlemen by Michael Northrop

"Unbelievable," I said, and I'd chosen that word special."

When I first saw this book I thought the cover shot was of a boy putting on a hoodie. But something didn't seem quite right--I looked again, and I realized. It's a body bag this kid is disappearing into. Holy creepy covers, batman!

I predict this gritty story will find many fans. It's the kind of book that a reluctant reader will be racing to finish, but a literate reader will find equally absorbing. That's quite a feat for this first-time novelist. I wouldn't be surprised if Gentlemen received serious attention from award committees this year.

The narrative voice is a standout. Micheal (his parents didn't spell it correctly on the birth certificate) is a tough teenage character who hangs out with "hard cases" and sees school as time stuck behind a desk waiting for a diploma. Although not academically inclined, he is very astute, and I got sucked right into his point of view. When one of his group of four friends goes missing after an outburst at school and their English teacher begins an imaginative series of lessons on Crime and Punishment, Micheal actually starts reading the book, and it disturbs him. Micheal begins to wonder if Tommy is dead rather than disappeared, and if his English teacher is the killer.

This book takes a long hard look at friendship and the formation of personal ethics. It's intelligent and driven, as suspenseful as Hitchcock at his best, and compelling right up to the end. Despite the dark places Gentlemen took me to, I never tired of being inside teen Micheal's head. Michael Northrop is now officially on my author radar.