Fresh Meat: Tunnel Vision by Aric Davis

Tunnel Vision is the second book to feature Nickel, Aric Davis’s teenage sleuth and anti-hero (available October 1, 2014).

Nickel – no last name – was twelve in his last book-length case and while I’ve known twelve-year-old thieves and drug dealers, I can imagine why a few people found the character’s age a tad hard to swallow. In the follow-up, Nickel’s a few years older. He never gets specific about his age, but he’s old enough (and young enough) to be attracted to a sixteen-year-old Betty Martinez without it being weird.

 Told in somewhat alternating points of view that eventually intersect, the reader first meets Nickel on a very bad day. He’s hurt and angry and plotting some violent revenge as soon as he can get back to town and maybe get himself better put back together. What comes across best is that Nickel is a hard kid having some bad thoughts, and if he’s the good guy, things are going to get ugly. Fast.

Making your living as a criminal comes with its own list of unique risks, but I never thought one of them would be coming down on the wrong side of a setup. Call it naivete or whatever else you want, but I was sure I had myself in a good place, and the only way I was going to get burned was by someone I trusted. I knew that was possible – there were no illusions for me – but when it happened even my black little soul was caught off guard.

“Sorry,” Gary said to me, like that mattered when I was staring down the barrel of a shotgun and getting cuffed and being sent in off the books to a crooked juvenile internment camp.

Gary was my dealer, the loser I’d transformed with money and bags of high-grade marijuana into a kid with confidence. Gary would never betray me – I was sure of it – but I was wrong. The money got bigger and bigger, and that was that. Gary sold me out for a truck full of dope and a connection to move as much as he could harvest in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

I hope for his sake, he enjoyed the money, because his luck is about to change.

Betty, by contrast, has more normal teenage concerns. She thinks she should break up with her boyfriend, but hasn’t yet. She’s been grounded by her moms and she’s keen to think up a way out of that one. She has a paper due at school that’s boring, but at least something to do while she’s stuck in her room. Her biggest rebellions seem to be fashion related, but overall she’s pretty typical.

Betty didn’t even like Jake Norton that much. He was what she considered one of the more interesting prospects available to her at Northview High School, but the thrill had worn off quickly, and the grounding over a few erroneous texts just added insult to injury. Now, as she poured over the Internet for research on a paper about the American women’s suffrage movement – a topic that had once seemed so cool, but now seemed as edgy as cotton candy – Betty felt more tired than she ever had in her young life.

…She had purple hair that was ready either for a re-dye or a new color altogether, a ring in her nose and a stud in her lip, and plans for a small tattoo just below her left breast that would make going to the beach this summer a straight-up bitch if she ever got up the nerve to actually get inked.

Compared to Nickel, Betty’s mini-rebellions seem benign, but the two are on a collision course once she sinks her teeth into the mystery of what really happened to her best friend’s aunt fifteen years before. In a matter of weeks, she seriously ups the ante on her bad teenage behavior.

On the road, Betty’s mind careened among fake IDs, Duke Barnes, Jake Norton, and a boy who seemed to neither have nor need a last name. Her heart felt as though it were caught between three worlds: Duke and Mandy called to her from the past, Jake from what should have been a normal year in the life of an American teenager, and Nickel from a world of shadow and mystery that seemed to link the other two with mysterious possibilities.

Like Nickel Plated, Tunnel Vision is billed as a both a young adult mystery and as edgy noir. It’s both those things, and without having read the first, I imagine it succeeds better than its predecessor mostly because Nickel’s older, which makes him both easier for older teens and YA-reading adults to relate to. It removes many of the questions about how a twelve-year-old could pull off some of the things he’s done and it makes it less likely younger readers will stumble into edgy noir they aren’t ready for. And make no mistake, there’s a bit of language – not a lot and certainly nothing the average teenager hasn’t heard or said among friends even if their parents don’t know about it. There’s violence, but nothing compared to the average night of television or some of the most popular video game titles. There’s a kid looking to unload a good deal of marijuana, but he doesn’t smoke it himself – and those who do are painted with a rather stereotypical brush.

But it’s a fun read with a good balance of darkness and light, hope and danger, and is, in many ways tame compared to some of the dystopian YA out there.

See more new releases at our Fresh Meat feature page.

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Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.

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