Fresh Meat: Bet Your Life by Jane Casey

Bet Your Life by Jane Casey is the second in the YA mystery series featuring Jess Tennant, a teen living on the English seaside whose life offers more complications than murder (available February 3, 2015).

Jess Tennant is adjusting to life in Port Sentinel after leaving London. In the past few months, she’s gone through crazy upheavals: her parent’s divorce, moving in with her aunt and uncle, breaking up with her boyfriend, and—no small thing—discovering her cousin’s murderer. She is understandably off-center about a lot of things, but she’s beginning to carve out a niche for herself.

That niche includes being in the wrong place at the wrong time and asking too many questions.

When Seb Dawson, a handsome, popular boy is beaten into a coma and left for dead, Jess is there moments after the attack. She tries to distance herself from the case. Her cousin’s death and the crazed aftermath are still too fresh for her to feel comfortable investigating. But when Beth, Seb’s little sister, asks her to dig into the assault Jess can’t say no. Very quickly, she discovers Seb is not all he claimed to be and that he’s been hiding some very dark secrets.

Bet Your Life is the second in Jane Casey’s YA series centering on Jess Tennant. As Jess navigates the ins-and-outs of the popular crowd in Port Sentinel, it’s pretty easy to get pulled into this small-town English world where the houses are named, the students home from boarding school cause all kinds of trouble, and Jess tries to hunt down a bad guy who has a lot to lose.

The mystery at the heart of this novel is Who Would Attack Seb?

The boy groaned again and lifted a hand, as if he meant to push them away. His wrist was ringed with a red mark that was bleeding a little where the skin had been rubbed away. One of the paramedics gently pushed his arm back down by his side. The effort seemed to have exhausted the boy and he lay completely still while they treated him. If I hadn’t seen him move and heard him moan, I’d have thought he was dead. His skin was bleached white where it wasn’t marked with purple bruises or streaked with darkening blood.

The paramedics were talking in low voices, scrawling notes on the back of their gloves as they assessed him. They were obviously worried about his condition and in a hurry to get him into the ambulance. I made myself concentrate on his face and realized, with a shiver, that under the blood, despite the swelling around his eyes and mouth, I recognized him. I had met him before.

Find the motive, find the culprit. Simple. However, Seb Dawson has a history of ‘pranking’ his fellows, making up hateful names for the girls in his school, and Jess suspects he may even be capable of more permanent damage. When she starts asking questions, the central theme becomes: Who wouldn’t do this to Seb?

Complicating matters for Jess, Seb’s crowd includes two people she’d rather not have to deal with: Will, her ex-boyfriend who she still has feelings for, and Ryan, the handsome, charming rival who may be the key to unlocking the Seb situation. The two of them create emotional turmoil Jess doesn’t need. When they end up fighting over her at a party, it leaves Jess confused, irritated, and perhaps in even deeper trouble.

I was waiting for Ryan to come back with a snappy response, so when he didn’t answer me, I looked to see if he was all right. He was staring fixedly at a point a little further down the road as we walked toward it. I looked in the same direction, and saw nothing, and looked again…and at last I saw what Ryan had seen: a figure by the side of the road, in the darkness.

By the time I saw him properly, and knew him, we were close enough to speak.

“What are you doing here?” Ryan asked.

“Waiting for you.” Will stepped out of the shadows, the bruise on his cheek visible even in the moonlight.

“Oh good,” I said lamely. “We can all go home together.” I might as well not have been there. Both of them ignored me as they stared at each other. If they’d been dogs, there would definitely have been growling.

Earlier on they’d started something.

Now it was time to finish it.

The relationships Casey builds throughout this novel are really the heart of the whole thing. Jess is caught between so many people. She’s legitimately torn between Will and Ryan. Her best friend comes to visit and winds up dating her cousin. Will’s mother flat-out hates her. Jess’s dad re-enters the picture, trying to get back together with her mom—and the scene where Jess confronts him is arguably the most moving of the entire novel, despite the violence surrounding Seb.

When these relationships are introduced and explored in further, it makes for fun, fast reading. Things get crazy very quickly. At one point Jess is deep into exploring Seb’s attack and thinks, “This mystery had a beautiful simplicity compared with everything else in my life.” And it’s so true. The narrative is dialogue-strong, so the reader gets to experience the multiple confrontations first-hand.

“Mum, don’t even think about going back to him.” I turned to Dad. “Don’t expect me to come back, either, because it’s not going to happen. We have a new life now and it makes us both happy.”

“Really? Because you don’t look happy, Jessica.”

“I’m fine”

“I doubt that. All you’ve done since you got here is get into trouble and run around with boys.” Dad’s eyes went to Will, then back to me. “You’re more like your mother than I thought. And frankly, I find that disappointing.”

“You just can’t stand losing,” I said. Disappointing. No matter how much I told myself not to mind, the word stung.

Not everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end of this novel. The character interactions Casey has created are too complex to tie off in this single book—this was also the case with her previous Jess Tennant novel, How to Fall. Casey also doesn’t shy away from adult issues, despite the YA label. Date rape, teenage drinking, divorce, and sex all enter into it. Definitely worth the read. 

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Jenny Maloney is a reader and writer in Colorado. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in 42 Magazine, Shimmer, Skive, and others. She blogs about writing at Notes from Under Ground. If you like to talk books, reading, publishing, movies, or writing, feel free to follow her on Twitter: @JennyEMaloney.

Read all posts by Jenny Maloney for Criminal Element.

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